Azerbaijani authorities intensify crackdown on critics, raid on publishing house

November 4th, 2013

Statement

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) strongly condemns the Azerbaijani authorities crackdown on Ganun, an independent publishing house in Azerbaijan. Expressing fear that the loss of this publishing house will gravely impact Azerbaijan’s civil society, IRFS urges the government of Azerbaijan to reverse the attempt to silence a powerful voice of dissent and stop pressure against the publishing house.

Last Friday the authorities ordered the raid on the office of “Ganun” (Law) publishing house. The financial and legal documents of the company were seized.

The “Ganun” (Law) publishing house, is the leading publisher of reports, papers and leaflets that spark political and social debate in Azerbaijan. IRFS believes that the government- ordered crackdown on Ganun is directly related to the publishing of the material of opposition and independent civil society. IRFS reminds that freedom to publish is a fundamental aspect of the human right to freedom of expression.

“The raid and checks conducted in the offices of the Election Monitoring and DemocracyStudiesCenter and the “Ganun” publishing house signal a rise in clampdown on human rights, particularly the freedom of expression”, said IRFS Chairman and CEO Emin Huseynov.

“These events demonstrate the determination of the authorities to silence those Azerbaijan’s civil society members, who confront the absence of basic human rights and democratic freedoms in Azerbaijan today,” he said.

The founder and director of the Ganun publishing house, Shahbaz Khuduoglu was both a friend and ally of the Monitor magazine editor-in-chief Elmar Huseynov, well-known as a hard-hitting investigative journalist who was highly critical of the authorities. In March 2005, Huseynov was murdered in a well-organized attack that appeared to be a contract-style killing. IRFS recalls that Ganun was the only publishing house that dared to publishMonitor magazine and Huseynov’s investigations.

IRFS considers the search conducted at the publishing house’s office followed by confiscation of documents without a court decision to be a blatant violation of domestic and international legislation.

IRFS recalls that the government of Azerbaijan has previously demonstrated its intolerance to freedom of expression and civil society activism by closing down the popular civil society institute, Free Thought University.

IRFS notes that the civil society crackdown turned especially hostile in the aftermath of presidential election. Journalists are often prevented from observing the court proceedings held on the cases of arrested religious followers, journalists and activists. For example, during the  last week’s hearing on theologian Taleh Bagirzadeh’s case, correspondent of Radio Liberty (Radio Azadliq) Turkhan Karimov was subjected to physical pressure by plainclothes policemen at the yard of the court. Today, the journalists were prevented from covering the controversial  trial of politician Ilgar Mammadov and journalist Tofig Yagublu.

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to end the vicious circle of pressure on civil society and create conditions for dialogue between the government and civil society.

IRFS urges the Azerbaijani Government to heed calls from international and regional bodies, such as the Council and Europe, the European Union (EU), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations (UN) to respect and protection of human rights, including freedom of expression.

Background: On November 1st the office of “Ganun” (Law) publishing house was raided by 20 people, who seized its accounting and legal documents. Three of the chance comers were dressed in the uniform of Tax Ministry.  The affiliation of the rest was unknown. Being required to present the accounting documents, the director of the publishing house asked for a relevant court decision and told the comers to wait until the accountant and lawyer arrive. Despite this, up to 10 of them entered the accountant’s room confiscating all documents, including even personal belongings of employees.