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Today, Freedom House released its new study Nations in Transit 2010 . According to the report, the democracy scores for 14 of the 29 countries examined in Nations in Transit worsened in 2009 compared with the previous year.
Democratic progress and the situation of media and civil society in Azerbaijan were also assessed in the report.
“Azerbaijan’s media landscape is not pluralistic; authorities seek to silence critical voices in the broadcast, electronic, and print media, and there is significant self-censorship among media professionals,” read the report. It also notes that freedoms were restricted after the 2009 March referendum and that harassment against journalists, human rights defenders, and youth activists has worsened. It stressed in the report that in April 2009, the president confirmed restrictive amendments to the Law on Mass Media that were adopted by the Parliament in March.
The case of Eynulla Fatullayev, editor–in-chief of two newspapers, Gundelik Azerbaijan and Realniy Azerbaijan, were also commented on in the report. “Fatullayev, a vocal critic of the Azerbaijani authorities, has been jailed since 2007 on charges including criminal libel and insult, terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred, and tax evasion. Both newspapers were closed down and their property confiscated. In late December 2009, dubious new criminal charges of drug possession were brought against the incarcerated Fatullayev.”
The government’s decision to impede foreign radio and television in 2009 was condemned in the report. “Azerbaijani print media have small circulation and unreliable distribution in regions beyond Baku. The few relatively influential newspapers tend to be politicized, either pro-government or pro-opposition, and few offer independent reliable coverage,” the report reads.
The rating pertaining to the situation of civil society in the country worsened. “The space for civil society has continued to shrink in Azerbaijan. The authorities do not countenance dissenting voices and have sought to silence critics with both financial incentives and intimidation ranging from tax inspections to jail terms. There was significant pressure against human rights defenders, independent media outlets, and watchdog organizations during the year,” according to the report.
The situation based on all indications has declined compared to previous years, reported the Freedom House.