Dear Mr Buzek,
Considering your forthcoming visit to Azerbaijan and the planned discussions of democracy, human rights and rule of law during your visit, we would like to make an appeal to you.
The May 12 2011 resolution of the European Parliament on Azerbaijan’s human rights record addressed some of our concerns. Nonetheless, we would like to inform you about the violation of human rights in the country, and restrictions on freedom of expression.
Monitor magazine editor-in-chief Elmar Huseynov was murdered in March, 2005. His murder remains unsolved.
Journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, who was investigating the murder of Elmar Huseynov, was arrested in 2007 under trumped up charges. The European Court of Human Rights April 2010 ruling, which acquitted Fatullayev and ruled for his immediate release, demonstrated that the charges were false. Further, the Council of Europe Cabinet of Ministers passed two decisions (in November 2010 and March 2011) to execute the ECHR judgment, but the journalist remains behind bars. Foreseeing Fatullayev’s acquittal by the ECHR, the authorities organized a provocation against the journalist, who was arrested without any justification and recognized as a prisoner of conscience. In December 2009, heroin was planted on Fatullayev, and as a result a new charge was brought against him. He was sentenced to another 2.5 years in jail.
Journalists in Azerbaijan continue to be abducted, beaten, and subjected to threats. Seymur Haziyev and Ramin Deko, employees of the pro-opposition newspaper, Azadlig daily, were abducted and beaten by unknown persons in March and April 2011 respectively. The physical and psychological pressure against multiple journalists since 2005 have scarcely been investigated. In fact, nobody has been brought to justice regarding these cases.
The authorities' intolerance in the realm of freedom of speech does not only involve the persecution of individual journalists. The broadcasting of the Azerbaijan services of Voice of America, RFE/RL, and BBC radio stations on local frequencies was suspended in January, 2009. Consequently, Azerbaijani citizens are unable to access key alternative sources of news and information.
Licensing in the TV and radio sector is de-facto managed and controlled by the authorities, which makes it impossible to open genuinely independent TV and radio stations. This process is additionally complicated by a governmental ban on foreign investments in newly launched TV or radio companies.
Professional monitoring of the content of the national TV channels demonstrates clearly that the TV channels never criticize the authorities, and fail to provide objective coverage of national news. Instead, coverage of government activity is usually positive.
At present, the internet is the only free and independent platform for the dissemination of information; however, there are many problems here as well. There is a state monopoly on internet traffic, which had led to the highest service prices in the region, restricting usage. While there is no official internet censorship, youth activists using social networking sites are increasingly facing pressures. Bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizadeh, who were arrested in summer 2009 under false charges, are out of jail, but their release is conditional. Under police bail, they are unable to leave the country. Elnur Mammadov, the organizer of several online (Facebook) protests in early 2011, is facing criminal charges, and his relatives have been fired from their jobs. Other youth activists Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and Jabbar Savalanli were arrested under false charges. In the last few days, Savalanli and Hajiyev have beem sentenced to 2.5 and 2 years respectively.
Peaceful protests were broken up by police in March-April, 2011. Currently, over 30 people remain behind bars, charged with violating public order. Several of them have already been recognized by international community as prisoners of conscience.
Human rights defender Vidadi Isgandarov is also in jail, charged with interfering with the electoral process, a case brought 6 months after the elections (November 7 2010).
We kindly request you to discuss the aforementioned problems with the authorities and call for the resolution of these problems.