BAKU (Reuters)–President Haydar Aliyev signed a decree on Thursday lifting censorship in Azerbaijan–the former Soviet republics ideology chief said.
Ali Hasanov–who heads the ideology department in Aliyev’s administration–told state-run television that the decree abolished the General Directorate of State Secrets–known by its Soviet-era acronym GLAVLIT.
Hasanov said the decree also ordered government bodies to provide for technical and material support to be given to the independent media.
"The censorship that evoked the dissatisfaction of journalists and some political figures no longer exists," Hasanov told a TV interviewer.
At the same time Aliyev called for the setting up of a new body for guarding state secrets. It was not clear how the new body would work.
The decree was issued less than two months before a presidential election in Azerbaijan due on October 11–which opposition groups had threatened to boycott.
The authorities have so far denied the very existence of press censorship in the emerging Caspian Sea oil power of eight million.
But independent newspapers often appear with blank spaces after passing through GLAVLIT scissors. Earlier this year a popular magazine which painted an unflattering picture of Aliyev’s government was removed from newsstands.
Hasanov said the move was not connected with the forthcoming election or with behind-the-scenes pressure by Western countries.
"This decision was not prompted by the election or populism," he said. "It corresponds to the general line of the development of the Azeri state as a democratic country. That is why we did it."
Asked by the interviewer why the order had not been signed earlier–since Aliyev has been in power since 1993–he replied–"We had more important affairs at hand."
Lifting press censorship was one of the main conditions set by the opposition groups to head off the threatened election boycott. Another condition was granting the opposition stronger representation on the Central Elections Commission.
Opposition groups welcomed the move.
"This is a positive step and meets one of our conditions for participating in the elections. We hope the government will meet other concerns we have as well," Asim Mollzade–deputy chairman of the Popular Front–told Reuters.
He added that he thought Aliyev’s move "did not look too sincere."