The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to protect media freedom and safety of journalists.
Also, the CPJ insists that two journalists, Polad Aslanov and Afgan Sadigov, should be released from prison.
CPJ Executive Director Robert Mahoney sent a letter to President Aliyev on 22 February expressing “concern about growing threats to press freedom and safety of journalists in Azerbaijan”.
He called on the Azerbaijani leader to take immediate steps to reverse this trend.
According to the appeal, the Media Law signed by Aliyev on 8 February significantly expands the grounds for closing and blocking news websites and also establishes a restrictive state register for recognised media outlets, among other measures.
“The Law is riddled with ambiguity and onerous requirements, and seems to deliberately destroy the last remaining bastions of free media covering the country,” it said in a message.
The CPJ calls for action to repeal the Law and ensure that it is never used against the press members.
Also, the message expresses concern about the fate of journalists Polad Aslanov and Afgan Sadigov who are currently imprisoned “in retaliation for their journalistic work”.
“Aslanov, editor-in-chief of independent news websites Xeberman and Press-az, has been behind bars since June 2019 on treason charges. He was sentenced to 16 years of imprisonment in November 2020. Aslanov has long suffered from chronic heart disease and his condition has deteriorated further during his imprisonment,” the CPJ director said in his appeal to Aliyev.
Despite long-term serious dental problems, rheumatism and other illnesses, the prison administration has repeatedly either denied him medical treatment or provided inadequate care. Aslanov went on hunger strike four times to protest against unfair sentencing and ill-treatment by the prison administration, despite his low weight.
A Supreme Court hearing on Aslanov’s appeal is scheduled for 24 February. “This date represents a good opportunity for the Azerbaijani authorities to correct the injustice and finally to drop the charges against Aslanov immediately and unconditionally,” the CPJ said.
Afgan Sadigov, editor-in-chief of the independent news website Azel.tv, has been imprisoned since May 2020 on extortion charges. “After being sentenced to seven years of imprisonment that year, Sadigov began a 241-day hunger strike which he only ended when the Supreme Court reduced his sentence to four years last July. During the hunger strike, Sadygov suffered serious kidney and lung problems, lost 47 kilograms of weight (104 pounds) and even briefly slipped into a coma. For the past seven months Sadygov has been treated at the Penitentiary Service Hospital for lung problems that arose during the hunger strike,” the CPJ further said in its appeal to the head of Azerbaijan.
At the end of the appeal, the CPJ calls on Aliyev to repeal the Media Law, help release Aslanov and Sadigov, and ensure the safe work of journalists.