Freedom of Speech and Press in Azerbaijan during 25-Year Grip on Power

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) decries the Azerbaijani authorities for the systematic clampdown on press freedom. The organization calls upon the world community to condemn this policy and exert appropriate pressure on the ruling regime of Ilham Aliyev to put an end to this practice.

Today, on May 3, the entire world community under the auspices of the United Nations celebrates such a significant occasion as the 25th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, while the Azerbaijani people have been helplessly forced to live under the yoke of the cult of personality and propaganda of the ruling regime of the Aliyev family for the past quarter of a century.

Today, all independent and opposition journalists, bloggers, writers and poets of Azerbaijan, who strive to hold the authorities under civilian control with the help of traditional and social media and fight for justice by standing against corrupt officials, face arbitrary and politically motivated persecution.

“There are fourteen prisoners in Azerbaijani prisons who have sacrificed their freedom defending and upholding freedom of expression,” IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov said. “Dozens of journalists have been involved as suspects and witnesses in politically motivated criminal cases, several journalists and human rights defenders albeit released from prisons are not allowed to leave the country, and all this is purposefully carried out by the repressive government to maintain the ubiquitous atmosphere of fear. The responsibility for the attacks on press freedom lies directly with the head of state Ilham Aliyev and his wife Mehriban Aliyeva, who, as a clear embodiment of nepotism and kleptocracy in Azerbaijan, use the repressive state apparatus to suppress dissent in the country. After taking over power from his father Heydar Aliyev, changing the Constitution in accordance with his personal interests, abolishing the two- term presidency limit, assigning his wife Mehriban Aliyeva as the First Vice-President, Ilham Aliyev has now also usurped the presidential post for yet another time (fourth time, counting also his father’s tenure) with the help of rigged elections, which serves as an indication that the political leadership of the country will purposefully continue to destroy all internal and external prerequisites for the development of press freedom,” Huseynov concluded.

IRFS welcomes the call of UN Secretary General António Guterres dedicated to the World Press Freedom Day, in which Mr. Guterres urges the governments of the UN member states to fight for press freedom and calls for the protection of journalists.

IRFS regrets that the Azerbaijani government ignores such a call from the democratic community of the world, and, on the contrary, demonstrably tightens the legislation regulating the freedom of speech in the country.

In view of the responsibility of Azerbaijan’s current leadership for the suppression of press freedom in the country, IRFS calls on UN Secretary-General António Guterres and UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, to reassess and withdraw the UNESCO goodwill ambassador status unfairly held by the de-jure and de-facto second person in the government, First Lady and First Vice-President of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva, as in the case of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

IRFS believes that the Azerbaijani President’s daughter Leyla Aliyeva, who has gained the status of UN goodwill ambassador in doubtful circumstances within the framework of a food security program, should also be deprived of her similar status as a goodwill ambassador.

Given that all prerequisites for any development of press freedom in the country have been completely eliminated, IRFS calls on the international community to support independent voices in Azerbaijan and promote the development of sustainable and long-term mechanisms to support independent media and other civil society institutions.

IRFS calls on Azerbaijan’s largest trade partner European Union to support press freedom in Azerbaijan and restore programs on supporting freedom of expression, which were completely suspended in 2014 and have not been restored so far, unlike the negotiations for a new strategic partnership treaty being conducted between the leaderships of Azerbaijan and European Union.

IRFS calls on the United States and European Union to start applying sanctions against high-ranking representatives of the ruling elite of Azerbaijan and their family members until they stop contributing to the suppression of the freedom of speech and demonstrate the desire to end widespread corruption, which is the root cause for the suppression of human rights in the country.

IRFS calls on the current Azerbaijani authorities to put an end to politically motivated prosecution of their critics and ensure the unconditional and immediate release of journalists Afgan Mukhtarli, Mehman Huseynov, Seymur Hazi, Nijat Aliyev, Araz Guliyev, Fikrat Ibishbayli, Ziya Asadli, Elchin Ismayilli, Arshad Ibrahimov, bloggers Rashad Ramazanov and Ilkin Rustamzade, writer Saday Shakarli, poet Tofig Hasanov, graffiti activists Giyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov, as well as ‘hostages of circumstances’ Emin Sagiyev and Tural Aliyev, who have been arrested for their family ties to prominent Azerbaijani expatriate video bloggers Ordukhan Babirov and Turkel Alisoy.

IRFS also calls on the government to give up the practice of blocking access to the websites of independent media organizations, stop disabling internet access during mass protests, refrain from the plans on possible introduction of online censorship, provide universal and free access to information and to the internet, liberalize legislation by increasing the accountability and transparency of the government, and put an end to all methods of coercive and bureaucratic pressure on press freedom.

IRFS further urges the leadership of Azerbaijan to end the impunity for crimes against journalists, in particular, to reinvestigate the circumstances surrounding the death of blogger Mehman Galandarov whose death the authorities are trying to attribute to suicide, and to find and punish those responsible for the deaths of journalists Elmar Huseynov, Alim Kazimli, Novruzali Mammadov, Rafig Tagi and Rasim Aliyev.

May 3, 2018



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