The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety strongly condemns the recent escalation in the persecution of journalists in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (NAR).

This has included the trumped-up criminal case against IRFS regional correspondent Hakimeldostu Mehdiyev, as well as the recent smear campaign on social networking sites against Mehdiyev and other journalists operating in NAR: Elman Abbasov and Malahat Nasibova.

On July 13th, Deputy Head of Sharur District Executive Power Aladdin Mammadov arrived at Mehdiyev’s house along with several others, behaved aggressively and cut off the power supply to the small car-washing station in his driveway. He was assaulted again on July 15 with regard to the same issue. The electricity wires and telephone pole supplying his house and car-washing station were removed. Elman Abbasov and Ilgar Nasibov arrived at the scene to investigate the incident. Police assaulted them and prevented them from filming. The journalists have appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Nakhcivan Autonomous Republic. Shortly thereafter, without any evidence, a criminal case was launched against Mehdiyev in Sharur Regional Prosecutor’s Office under Article 189-1 of the Criminal Code (diverting natural gas or electricity). On August 3, he was obliged to sign a statement of obligation binding him not to leave NAR.

IRFS notes that NAR is the most dangerous region in the country in terms of the safety of press workers: a number of journalists have faced harrassment and/or been forced to leave the territory so far this year. The most recent incident took place after the visit of “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” correspondent, political commentator Michael Ludwig to Nakhchivan. Ludwig had to leave Nakhchivan as a result of pressures imposed by local authorities. The fact that the foreign journalist was accompanied by Mehdiyev at his visit to the Sadarak region likely incensed local authorities and prompted their subsequent behaviour. The harrassment extends to the internet: fake Facebook profiles have been created on behalf of Elman Abbasov and Hakimeldostu Mehdiyev, where both journalists are insulted.

IRFS believes that this kind repression will only further damage the image of NAR leadership and Azerbaijani government, and threatens the country’s international image.

IRFS once again calls on NAR authorities to put an end to the persecution of journalists, terminate the criminal case against Mehdiyev and switch his electricity back on. IRFS also calls on the Azerbaijani President to react to the recent developments in NAR and ensure that those responsible for harrassing and persecuting them are brought to justice.

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