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Hague in Baku for Gas Deal Raises Concern at Azeri Arrest

Dec. 17 (Bloomberg) -- U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague discussed the arrest of an Azeri civil rights activist with President Ilham Aliyev during a visit to the former Soviet republic for the signing of a natural gas export deal.

Anar Mammadli, head of the non-governmental Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center, was arrested yesterday for tax evasion and illegal entrepreneurship, charges his defense team rejected as politically motivated.

“We have raised that specific case; we will continue to raise concerns,” Hague told reporters in Baku, the Azeri capital, after meeting with Aliyev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov. “For us, economic development and greater prosperity go along with greater human rights.”

Hague today attended the signing by the BP Plc-led group of a $45 billion deal to produce and export gas to Europe from the Shah Deniz field in the Caspian Sea.

Mammadli’s election monitoring group deemed fraudulent the Oct. 9 presidential election, won by Aliyev with almost 85 percent of the vote, according to official results. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, also said the vote “fell short of international standards” and was marred by “serious shortcomings.”

The charges brought against Mammadli are groundless and politically motivated, defense lawyer Rashid Hacili said by phone from Baku.

Aliyev, who took over from his late father in disputed elections 10 years ago, is heading a government that is ranked among the world’s most corrupt and repressive by Transparency International and Reporters Without Borders. Dozens of activists, journalists, bloggers and other critics have been arrested or convicted of “bogus charges” during the past 18 months, Human Rights Watch said in a September report.

Azerbaijan, the largest oil producer in the former Soviet Union after Russia and Kazakhstan, agreed today with BP and its partners in the Shah Deniz project to export 16 billion cubic meters of gas a year to the European Union and Turkey starting from 2019.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zulfugar Agayev in Baku at zagayev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hellmuth Tromm at htromm@bloomberg.net

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