We have decided to appeal to You regarding your planned visit to Azerbaijan on January 13-14, 2011. We would like to inform you that the problems on freedom of speech and expression remains unsolved in Azerbaijan.
The editor-in-chief of “Realniy Azerbaidjan” and “Gundelik Azerbaiajn” newspapers Eynulla Fatullayev, imprisoned in 2007, has not been released from prison despite the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgment on his immediate release. Moreover, the Azerbaijani government also refuses to pay Fatullayev the compensation set out by the ECHR judgment. In April, 2010, the ECHR judgment annulled the charges brought against the journalist and Grand Chamber upheld the judgment on October 4, 2010.
Despite the continuous and insistent calls on the local and international community, the Law on Defamation has not been adopted, and consequently, prosecution of journalists and the persons speaking to mass media, under charges of libel (Article 147 of Criminal Code) and insult (Article 148) has been continuing for many years. Because of the lack of a free economy in the country, there is no advertisement market that could finance the media outlets. Because of this, independent and critical mass media outlets are either shut down, or must survive by changing their course, replacing the criticism with praise of ruling regime.
The murderers of late Monitor Magazine editor-in-chief Elmar Huseynov killed in 2005, have not been found yet. The Azerbaijani government's position during the years after the murder, shows that they are not interested in solving the crime.
The journalists are subjected to physical assault in the protest meetings and other meetings where they carry out their professional work. The complaints of the assaulted journalists are never investigated and the guilty persons are never punished.
The results of the monitoring held in frame of “Free Airwaves” Project, carried out within past two years with support from European Commission, showed that the local TV channels don’t abide by the principles of diversity of opinions, political pluralism, accuracy, balance, or objectivity. This and other trends show that the TV channels in Azerbaijan are directly controlled by the government and they serve the ruling regime’s interests. Today, it is not possible to open a news TV or radio channel, as the National TV and Radio Council is controlled by the ruling establishment and there is a monopoly in distribution of frequencies. The broadcasting of Radio Liberty, BBC and Voice of America radios, which were suspended on January 1, 2009, has not been restored yet. As a result of all these facts, the citizens are deprived of alternative information sources.
We are concerned over the multiple law violations observed in the 2010 Parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan, as well as a lack of election climate, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. The arrest of persons with dissident opinions for their criticism of authorities and their political affiliation in early 2011, has increased our concerns and make us suppose that the number of human rights violations will increase even more.
As civil society representatives, we support the expansion of EU-Azerbaijan cooperation, but we want to see this cooperation develop not artificially, but substantially and comprehensively, in accordance with Azerbaijan’s obligations in the framework of Neighborhood Policy and Eastern Partnership. We call on you to discuss in your meeting with Azerbaijan leadership the problems on freedom of expression, election rights, freedom of assembly and other rights and liberties before the discussion of energy, security and economic cooperation issues, and to take concrete steps to improve current situation.
Thanks in advance
Chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety