INSTITUTE FOR REPORTERS’ FREEDOM AND SAFETY STATEMENT

July 21st, 2009
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety calls on Azerbaijan’s government and president to release Azerbaijan’s wrongfully imprisoned journalists in connection with the 22 July National Press Day, to show tolerance for criticism from independent and free press, to end harassment against media representatives and NGO members that criticize the government, restore FM broadcasts of "Radio Liberty", "Voice of America" and BBC and decriminalize defamation.

At present three well-known journalists – “Gundalik Azerbaijan” and “Realniy Azerbaijan” Newspapers’ Editor-in-chief Eynulla Fatullayev, “Azadlig” Newspaper Editor-in-chief Ganimat Zahid and “Bizim Yol” Newspaper Correspondent Mushfig Huseynov are in prison. They were detained on spurious charges for writing harsh critical articles about the government. E.Fatullayev and G.Zahid are considered prisoner of conscience by international and local communities.

“Tolishi Sado” newspaper Editor-in-chief Novruzali Mammadov and “Ideal” Newspaper Founder Nazim Guliyev are also in prison.
 

Novruzali Mammadov was accused in treason against the government. Court hearings against him were held closed. Therefore the international and local communities doubt that the hearings were held fairly. Some aspects of the charges against him indicate that N.Mammadov was detained under defamation charges. Although Nazim Guliyev violated professional ethics of journalists, IRFS believes that no one should be arrested on defamation charges. Media representatives strictly violating professional ethics deliberately like Nazim Guliyev did should not be arrested, but should be punished by other means.

Recently restrictions on internet have also been observed. Two weeks ago two young bloggers – “”Alumni Network” Youth Organization Coordinator, ANTV Online TV Head Emin Milli (Abdullayev) and one of OL Youth Organization Coordinators Adnan Hajizade were beaten and injured by two people for their satiric video-recording placed on the internet. They appealed to police as victims but were arrested as suspected persons.

Besides, high-ranked government officials try to restrict the work of internet. Artificial obstacles are created for electronic mass media. The broadcasts of three radio stations serving political pluralism – "Radio Liberty", "Voice of America" and BBC via FM frequencies in Azerbaijan were ceased on 1 January this year. Transparent tenders to open new TV and radio channels are not held, and new changes to law restrict mass media’s work.

Amendments and changes made to the Constitution of Azerbaijan Republic on 18 March, to Law “On Mass Media” on 6 April, to Law “On TV and Radio Broadcasting” on 3 April, to Law “On NGOs (public unions and funds) are aimed at restricting the work of civil society. Now a plan is being worked out to adopt a new law to oversee internet media, and this will result in censorship on the internet media. All these are contradictory to Azerbaijan’s international commitments and mean no pluralism.
 

 
 

 IRFS calls on Azerbaijan’s government to:

    * immediately restore the FM broadcasts of "Radio Liberty", "Voice of America" and BBC;
    * release Azerbaijan’s wrongfully imprisoned journalists;
    * decriminalize defamation;
    * prosecute to the fullest extent of the law all people responsible for attacking journalists and violating journalists’ rights;
    * eliminate the ban on foreign broadcasters in Azerbaijan’s national media market;
    * annul amendments and changes to the constitution and other laws that limit press freedom and development of the civil society;
    * not to adopt any law restricting internet;
    * end provocation and spurious charges against mass media representatives and annul the punishment of the journalists imprisoned wrongfully;
    * release young bloggers Emin Milli (Abdullayev) and Adnan Hajizade who were attacked and arrested on spurious charges, and prosecute people that injured them;

IRFS calls on international organizations:

    * to continue pressuring Azerbaijan’s government if it does not fulfill its commitments to solve abovementioned demands;
    * to use harsh sanctions against Azerbaijan’s government if the demands are not fulfilled.