Today in the Baku office of the Council of Europe, the Council of Europe Cabinet of Ministers “AGO” Monitoring Groups discussed the freedom of expression situation in Azerbaijan with leaders from media institutions and journalism organizations.

Turan News Agency Director Mehman Aliyev said that as a result of economic and political attacks by the government, the press has reached a critical state. According to him, alternative ideas can only be found in newspapers that only have circulations of several thousand, and on “Radio Liberty,” “BBC” and “Voice of America.” Aliyev also noted that as the level of solidarity has decreased recently, the press’ ability to defend itself has weakened.  He said this is because 99% of press institutions are under the government’s control. When journalists conduct pickets for the defense of their own rights, only representatives from 5-6 newspapers come.

ANS Broadcasting Vice-President Sayfulla Mustafayev said that in comparison with 2006, 2007 was not so bad for ANS. According to him, with the exception of some topics, ANS gave Azerbaijan’s population a reasonable amount of correct information. Coming to the topic of defending journalists, Mustafayev said that ANS does not defend some journalists because it does not believe they are journalists. As an example Mustafayev named Eynulla Fatullayev, and said that the “Realny Azerbayjan” Newspaper Chief Editor is not a journalist, but rather a “Media Killer.” Mustafayev also said that to expect freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, which is currently at war, is an illusion. According to him, once the Garbagh problem is solved, at that time the freedom of expression problem will also be solved.

“Azadlig” Newspaper Director Azer Ahmedov said that the media problems, and particularly the arrests of Eynulla Fatullayev, Sakit Zahidov and Ganimet Zahid, were carried out at the direct order of the country’s leader. The government imprisons journalists on spurious charges, and then sends people to visit the journalists and ask them to sign applications for pardons, said Ahmedov.

Press Council Chairman Aflatun Amashov said that the problems with Azerbaijan’s press are a result of the Garabagh war, the politicization of the press and the low financial means of media institutions.  He said that in the near future the state will begin a program to support the press, and this will resolve some problems. He also emphasized that it is important for the Council of Europe to assist in achieving the release of the wrongfully imprisoned journalists.

Media Rights Institute Director Rashid Hajili said that Azerbaijan seriously needs to adopt laws on “Freedom of Expression” and “Tele-radio Broadcasting.” He said at present TV channels are not broadcasting pluralistic information, and the vast majority of programming is not balanced, and thus violates existing legislation.

Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety Director Emin Huseynov said that Azerbaijan’s media problems stem for from the country’s large-scale corruption, more so than they stem from the war. He noted that in the 90s corruption was measured in the millions, but now it is measured in the billions, and at the same time attacks on the press on now much more frequent. In addition to defamation, Huseynov noted that in last two years law enforcement agencies have begun to carryout dirty provocations that result in the imprisonment of journalists. Journalists arrested in this manner include Eynulla Fatullayev, Mushfig Huseynov, Sakit Zahidov and Ganimet Zahidov.

“Day.az” Internet site owner Elnur Bayimov said that in comparison with 2007, in 2008 there have not been as many problems related to the internet. However he added that he has heard that the government is seeking to form a council to regulate the internet, and this arouses concern.

In addition to the above mentioned issues, the strengthening of pressure to prevent the limiting of freedom of expression, the condition of the imprisoned journalists, the hunger-strike that journalists are conducting, and other issues were also discussed.  

In response to this, “AGO” Group head Per Sogren said that the Council of the Europe is paying special, close attention to the press freedom situation in Azerbaijan. He said that the group will bring up the issues mentioned during their meetings tomorrow with government officials.  He also said that it can’t be ruled out that representatives from the group will visit the hunger-strike being conducting in “Yeni Musavat” Newspaper’s editorial office.

After the meeting between “AGO” Group and leaders from media institutions and journalism organizations, “AGO” carried out discussions with Azerbaijan Presidential Administration Socio-Political Department head Ali Hasanov, National Radio and TV Council Chairman Nushiravan Maharremli, Azerbaijan State TV channel Chairman Arif Alishanov, Public TV Chairman Ismayil Omarov and leadership from Azerbaijan’s private TV channel.

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