Azerbaijan’s crackdown on free expression has dramatically escalated in the run-up to October’s presidential election, the new Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) report on press freedom reveals. “With the scope of the government’s crackdown on dissent broader and the abuses more flagrant than ever, the next quarter could prove to be the most dangerous period yet for critical journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, and civil and political activists,”said IRFS CEO and Chairman EminHuseynov.
The new IRFS report details freedom of expression developments in Azerbaijan from January to June 2013. Supported by the Danish NGO International Media Support (IMS), the report exposes an unprecedented crackdown on the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, as the authorities prepare for Azerbaijan’s October presidential election.
For the first time, the report contains a chapter on the surveillance of journalists, as illegal forms of surveillance are increasingly being used as a means of pressure against critical journalists. Such acts are serious violations of the right to privacy, and have a knock-on effect on the exercise of other human rights.
Among other key findings of the report:
- Seven journalists, one blogger, and two human rights defendersremained behind bars in connection with freedom of expression, among the more than 80 political prisoners in the country.
- There were 26 new cases of attacks against journalists, and a lack of progress in the investigations into any of the previous cases of violence against journalists, including two murders.
- Regressive legislation was adopted, extending criminal defamation provisions to online content, increasing penalties for organizing or participating in unsanctioned protests, increasing the maximum period of administrative detention, and imposing restrictions on NGO operations.
- Excessive civil defamation lawsuits were filed against critical media outlets, leaving Azadliq newspaper on the brink of closure.
The report also details an increase by public officials in their rhetoric against independent NGOs and media, and a notable shift in Azerbaijan’s relations with the international community. As the government’s confidence grew, Azerbaijani civil society became further disillusioned with the bodies that failed to hold the government to account – namely the Council of Europe and the European Union.
IRFS calls on the international community to pay close attention to the pre-election situation in Azerbaijan and to increase pressure on the government to fulfill its international human rights obligations. Now, more than ever, actions are needed, not just words.
The report, Azerbaijan’s Free Expression Crackdown Intensifies in Run-up to Election, is available at