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The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety is concerned that the Media Rights Institute (MRI) program coordinator Khalid Agaliyev was called to the Baku City Chief Police Department (BCCPD) today, 21 July. IRFS assesses this as moral pressure used against an independent NGO, MRI.
Agaliyev was called to the BCCPD due to a semiannual report regarding the "legal situation of the media in Azerbaijan in 2010" that MRI disseminated yesterday. BCCPD Deputy Chief Yashar Aliyev and Baku City Deputy Prosecutor Fazil Hasanaliyev participated in the meeting. He was asked questions about the pressure and attacks against journalists that were written in the report. They told him to be careful not to damage Azerbaijan’s image when these reports are officially prepared. Aliyev and Hasanaliyev told Agaliyev that the goal of the meeting was to investigate the cases of physical harassment against the journalists whose names were in the report.
However, IRFS believes that the BCCPD and the Baku City Prosecutor’s Office do not have authority to conduct any discussions with NGOs.
IRFS notes that MRI and other journalist organizations (including IRFS) unveil similar reports regularly (i.e. monthly, quarterly, semiannual and annual). However, neither the BCCPD nor the Baku City Prosecutor’s Office has shown the slightest bit of interest in these reports nor investigated any harassment cases before.
IRFS believes that a meeting for this purpose would have been held with officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Chief Prosecutor’s Office because these reports cover incidents taking place in anywhere in the republic not just Baku.
IRFS also notes that the image of the country suffering because of reports prepared by an NGO would not be the concern of law-enforcement organs. At the very least, relevant entities like Azerbaijani Republic Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Presidential Administration, and Milli Mejlis would be concerned about the image of the country.
In addition, IRFS emphasizes that a high-ranking official like Yashar Aliyev has no moral right to exchange views with an NGO representative regarding physical harassment against journalists. In 2003, Aliyev used physical force against two journalists who were doing their work and illegally assigned several policemen in his custody to use force against other journalists.
IRFS does not doubt that the MRI report is reliable and believes that calling the MRI program coordinator to the police department simply because the MRI unveiled the reality about pressure and harassment faced by journalists to the public is a planned action to scare away independent NGOs before the parliamentary elections. IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to cease these scare tactics.
Additionally, IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to create a Working Group consisting of representatives of several media and journalist organizations along with representatives of other relevant organizations if the government is in fact interested in investigating abuse cases against journalists and in improving the situation of freedom of speech in general.
The exchange of opinions within a healthy dialogue with set principles can be held within a Working Group. This group can search ways to improve the situation of freedom of speech that is worsening in the country.
IRFS urges the local and international community to immediately react to this issue and to follow the case.