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Dear Ms. Kaidanow,
I am writing to express my grave concern to you about the severe deteriorations occurring in Azerbaijan in the sphere of human rights, and specifically freedom of expression.
As you are likely aware, the broadcasts of three radio stations – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL), Voice of America (VOA), and the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) via FM radio frequencies in Azerbaijan were banned as of 1 January of this year. As these radio stations were the only independent broadcast media outlets in the country, Azeri residents are now deprived of uncomplicated access to balanced, objective information.
The murder of "Monitor" Magazine Editor-in-Chief Elmar Huseynov, who was shot to death in front of his apartment on 2 March 2005, remains unsolved. In addition, just this past August, journalist Novruzali Mammedov died in prison because prison officials deprived him adequate medical care, turning his politically motivated, unjustified prison term into a death sentence.
At present there are five wrongfully imprisoned journalists in Azerbaijan. Every second they remain in prison the odds increase that they will meet the same fate as Novruzali Mammadov. Eynulla Fatullayev, Ganimat Zahid, and Mushfig Huseynov were convicted on spurious charges and were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Sardar Alibeyli (Aliyev) and Faramaz Novruzoglu (Allahverdiyev) were convicted of defamation charges and were sentenced to four months and three months imprisonment respectively.
Furthermore, two young bloggers – “Alumni Network” Youth Organization Coordinator, AN Online Television Head Emin Milli (Abdullayev) and OL Youth Organization co-coordinator Adnan Hajizade are being held in pre-trial detention and could receive lengthy prison sentences because of critical material about Azerbaijan’s government they placed on the internet. They were arrested on spurious “hooliganism” charges and at present the court is considering their case.
Another way the government has sought to limit freedom of expression is by limiting the legal framework within which the media and activists work. The 18 March 2009 additions and amendments to the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic, 6 March 2009 additions and amendments to the Mass Media Law, 3 April 2009 additions and amendments to the TV and Radio Broadcasting Law, and 30 June 2009 additions and amendments to NGO (Public Unions and Funds) Law are all aimed at curtailing the work of Azerbaijan’s mass media and civil society.
In general the work of journalists in Azerbaijan is becoming increasingly perilous due to government interference, the wanton use of force by police and law enforcement officials against reporters, death threats that the government and telecommunications companies let occur with impunity, and the constant danger of arrest, assault, and even murder.
In light of these facts, I kindly ask that you to bring these issues up during your meetings with representatives of Azerbaijan’s government and encourage them to work to eliminate these negative trends and ensure freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. In addition, I request that you report these issues to the appropriate officials in the U.S. government upon returning and ask them to make every effort to compel the Azeri government to swiftly resolve these issues.
Chairman, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety