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The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) is in shock after a near-fatal attack on the well-known journalist Ilgar Nasibov in Azerbaijan. With this attack, which was particularly shocking in its violence, the alarming deterioration of human rights record has reached the point of no-return.
A journalist in Nakhchivan city of Azerbaijan, who has criticized local government officials and written on other sensitive issues was seriously beaten by unidentified assailants on August 21. Police were slow to respond and to order a medical examination.
Nasibov was discovered unconscious on August 21, at around 10:00pm in his office in Nakhchivan, with serious injuries to his head, face, arms, and legs, according to his wife, a well-known human rights defender Malahat Nasibova.
This attack is a wake-up call to all those who value freedom of expression –in particular the Council of Europe, which continues to turn a blind eye against brutal human rights crackdown coinciding with Azerbaijan’s chairmanship of the Council. The body has failed to publicly condemn its current chair for a series of outrageous crimes against human rights– including recent arrests of prominent rights defenders and forceful closure of key non-governmental organizations.
The membership of the Council of Europe includes the obligation to guarantee fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Not only did the Azerbaijani government fail in their binding obligations, but a similar failure to support the fulfillment of provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights marked the actions of the Council of Europe (CoE) Secretary General and CoE Parliamentary Assembly.
“It is a usual and expected procedure at the Council of Europe that when human rights are attacked to issue a press statement condemning the attack. Unfortunately, we have not seen any strongly-worded statement since the crackdown has started. Independent journalists, rights defenders and activists across the country despair, feeling betrayed by the Council of Europe that chooses to neglect their own values as long as Azerbaijan contributes to its geopolitical agenda” IRFS said.
While the Council of Europe should continue to use PACE monitoring procedures to document and report on violations of human rights in Azerbaijan, Strasbourg should explore institutional measures to hold the current regime accountable for human rights violations.
Freedom of the press, including ensuring that journalists can safely carry out their vital mission, is of paramount importance to freedom of expression and to the healthy functioning of any democracy.
IRFS research shows that acts of violence against Azerbaijani journalists historically have occurred frequently and without official investigations. Embraced culture of impunity has resulted in widespread practices of self-censorship in the country, as many journalists fear crossing certain lines in writing about taboo topics, such as corruption and the business interests of the president’s family. The attack against Nasibov is the direct result of authorities failure to properly investigate a series of outrageous crimes against journalists. These crimes include but are not limited to the murder of two journalists, Elmar Huseynov and Rafig Tagi; allowing for the death in prison of another journalist, Novruzali Mammadov; the ongoing harassment and intimidation and gross privacy violations of journalist Khadija Ismayilova; and hundreds of violent attacks against journalists and media workers.
The Azerbaijani authorities must launch an immediate, independent and transparent investigation into the brutal attack on journalist Nasibov in order to bring both the perpetrators and the instigators to justice. Azerbaijan must end the vicious cycle of violence, publicly condemn attacks against journalists and recognize that they are vulnerable to violence specifically because of the work they do.
IRFS calls on the Council of Europe as such, as well as individual member states, not to turn a blind eye to the current human rights crisis in Azerbaijan and denounce the serious and persistent breaches of fundamental human rights and freedoms in this country.
IRFS condemns the authorities of Azerbaijan for having unjustifiably failed to fulfill Azerbaijan’s human rights obligations before the Council of Europe.