Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) is deeply concerned over the aggressive government crackdown against freedom of expression and freedom of association in the wake of October’s presidential election, and demands that authorities put an end to this repression and fulfill the country’s commitments in the fields of the freedom of expression and association
IRFS considers the 4 year prison sentence passed on Nota Bene newspaper editor Serdar Alibayli and the 9 year jail sentence on blogger Rashad Ramazanov to be part of the ever increasing repression on freedom of expression, and urges the Azerbaijani authorities to release all journalists imprisoned on trumped-up charges. In the course of its court monitoring, IRFS has observed serious violations of national and international legal norms during trials for journalists and bloggers.
“Serdar Alibayli has always been very critical and sharp-tongued towards the government, in particular the Azerbaijani president, and blogger Rashad Ramazanov posted critical thoughts on his Facebook page. These persons have surely been arrested due to their critical opinions. Azerbaijan will chair the Council of Europe in 2014, but, throw the jailing innocent people on fake charges, the country demonstrates its failure to fulfill the human rights obligations it undertook during accession in to the organization” said IRFS CEO and Chairman Emin Huseynov.
IRFS notes that one of the first victims of the authorities’ post-election crackdown was the opposition newspaper Azadliq, which ceased to be published, after its bank accounts were suspended due to the paper’s failure to pay huge defamation fines imposed by courts based on a series of lawsuits filed by close allies of the government. The attempts to force Azadliq to shut down are deliberate repression and represent a violation of the freedom of expression as Azadliq is one of only a handful of opposition newspapers that serves as a platform for alternative opinion.
“Azadliq’s closure, and similar financial problems that have confronted another major opposition newspaper, Yeni Musavat, only lead to a further shrinking of the space for free expression in Azerbaijan. The former’s closure and the latter’s risk of closure could lead to the complete disappearance of alternative print media in Azerbaijan,” Huseynov noted.
IRFS also notes with regret that Altay Goyushov, a history professor at Baku State University, was recently forced to leave a lecture hall and then pressured by the university leadership to resign from his job due to his Facebook posts, which were of a political nature. IRFS notes that the harassment of a person for his opinions is unacceptable and reflects the government’s excessive intolerance to alternative opinion.
Concurrent with efforts to eliminate the leading opposition press, the authorities continue to put pressure on “Ganun” Publishing House, which produces publications containing alternative views. The publishing company’s main personal computers and all of its financial documents were confiscated after a government-ordered tax audit was conducted in the company’s office last week. By seizing the computers for no reason, the Ministry of Taxes has, in effect, paralyzed the publishing company’s work.
In addition to targeting journalists and media outlets in the aftermath of October 9 presidential election, the Azerbaijani government launched relentless pressure on non-governmental organizations. The Prosecutor General’s Office has recently initiated trumped-up criminal cases against the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDSC) and several other NGOs that declared massive election falsifications in their election monitoring reports. This is a flagrant display of the government’s ruthless attitude towards civil society.
“The continuous and increasing repression against media and civil society shows that instead of building democracy in the country, the Azerbaijani authorities violate international obligations and, in fact, are drawing the country back to Soviet-style dictatorship” Emin Huseynov noted.
IRFS urges the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the 14 journalists, human rights defenders and bloggers who are currently behind bars, to put an end to pressures on the opposition press and “Ganun” publishing house, to stop the crackdown on NGOs, to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the country’s international obligations, and to implement urgently needed democratic reform.
IRFS also calls on the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the United Nations to intervene in the dangerous and non-democratic situation in Azerbaijan by demanding that the Azerbaijani government fulfill its obligations and imposing concrete sanctions in case of the government’s failure to do so.