The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) calls upon the Azerbaijani government to end the 3-week campaign against IRFS.
IRFS believes that the intensification of pressure from the ruling establishment is primarily driven by IRFS’s involvement in the Sing for Democracy campaign, which was launched to support human rights in Azerbaijan ahead of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.
Within the the Sing for Democracy campaign, IRFS has been issuing updates both locally and internationally regarding the freedom of expression situation in Azerbaijan, calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to show greater respect for this fundamental freedom.
In the past two weeks, IRFS notes that the state media has published three separate articles libelling IRFS:
1. 25 January, in Yeni Azərbaycan, the print outlet of the ruling party (http://www.yeniazerbaycan.com/news/15161.html);
2. 01 February, in Azərbaycan, the newspaper of Azerbaijan’s parliament;
3. 7 February, in “Mərkəz” newspaper, run by MP Gular Ahmadova (http://merkez.az/axcp-s%C9%99drinin-2013-planlari.html).
These articles falsely accuse IRFS of acting in radical opposition to state interests, including misappropriating grant money to fund the political opposition, and inciting and organizing protests.
This material constitutes a smear campaign on the part of the above print outlets, which are disseminating information that violates ethical standards, fails to quote sources, and does not seek comment from the opposite side.
In addition, the Ministry of Justice has recently issued a warning to IRFS citing the dissemination of “biased” information via www.nakhchivan.org.az and the failure to report changes in its chairmanship to the Minsitry. However, IRFS has not made any changes to its founding documents. Nor does the Ministry have the authority to threaten IRFS concerning its website content. As for the alleged bias, this is exclusively the jurisdiction of the courts. Ministry of Justice employees have acted beyond their remit by issuing a warning to IRFS regarding the www.nakhchivan.org.az website.
IRFS is concerned that this smear campaign and the ungrounded warnings from state institutions may be followed by physical harrassment of or provocation against IRFS staff.
The Azerbaijani ruling establishment, which is organizing the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2012 in Baku, has widely announced that freedom of expression and internet freedoms will be supported and promoted by the state. However, the actions of the Justice Ministry and government-controlled mass media outlets against those who hold alternative opinions cast doubt upon the sincerity of these promises.
IRFS once again calls upon the Azerbaijani authorities to end the pressures on IRFS, to respect the freedoms of association and expression, and to provide a safe and free environment for civil society.
IRFS asks international organizations, particularly the Council of Europe, OSCE, and UN, to call for an end to govenment restrictions on Azerbaijani civil society.
IRFS also calls on the European Broadcasting Union and the Azerbaijan Eurovision Organizing Committee to file relevant appeals to the Azerbaijani government requesting an end to pressure on IRFS, a member of the Sing for Democracy campaign.