The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety strongly condemns the artificial barriers posed to the sale of leading opposition newspapers, Azadlig and Yeni Musavat, and regards it as the authorities’ intention to silence the country’s largest critical newspapers. IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to stop the continued harassment of opposition press, and to ensure media freedom and freedom of expression are respected in Azerbaijan.
IRFS notes that these two newspapers regularly face pressure from the authorities for their active pro-opposition and critical position. The government has developed sophisticated machinery that stifles critical and independent reporting. The authorities continuously resort to violence, abductions, torture, beatings and the illegal detention of journalists in blatant violation of international human rights and freedom of expression standards.
Impunity for the physical and moral attacks on correspondents of these newspapers, huge fines imposed on the newspapers by unfair decisions of courts are just part of the entire strategy to eliminate the above-mentioned media outlets.
The state economy has been monopolized by a small number of oligarchs, which limits the advertising market, and constitutes another obstacle in the development of the media in Azerbaijan. Even medium-sized entrepreneurs refuse to advertise in the independent and opposition media for fear of angering the authorities. Thus, the only way for independent and opposition press, including Azadlig and Yeni Musavat to survive is direct sales, which is also hampered by external forces. A recent survey conducted by the IRFS revealed that the news Press Kiosks (which rather look like shops) located in the center of Baku either do not sell Azadlig and Yeni Musavat at all, or place only 1-2 copies on stands.
IRFS underlines that the new Press Kiosks are located in the place of recently demolished news stalls of Gasid Press Distribution Company. According to Azadlig and Yeni Musavat, the sale of the two newspapers has dramatically dropped a result of this replacement. The loss of such a huge income may result in the factual closure of those newspapers.
Restrictions on advertising revenue, printing and distribution, as well as an acute lack of private investment, suffocate the handful of relatively successful independent publications.
IRFS states the government is deliberately strangling the press distribution in the country.
IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to refrain from creating obstacles for the opposition and independent media and to fulfill its international obligations to ensure the full exercise of citizens’ right of access to information.