IT IS NECESSARY TO STOP REPRESSION AND START REFORMS IMMEDIATELY
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) calls on the Azerbaijani government to immediately release from prison all journalists, bloggers, and political activists illegally convicted for exercising their freedom of expression.
The IRFS is especially concerned about the state of health of journalist and human rights activist Elchin Mammad, who has started yesterday an indefinite hunger strike in prison, which he timed to coincide with World Press Freedom Day. Illegally imprisoned since March 2020 on a criminal case fabricated by the special services of Azerbaijan, this human rights activist and journalist demands an end to repression against dissent in Azerbaijan and his own immediate acquittal and release.
The IRFS is also concerned about the fate of imprisoned journalists Polad Aslanov, Afgan Sadigov, Bahruz Aliyev, bloggers Aslan Gurbanov, Elvin Isayev, and Magsud Mahmudov, some of whom have been denied qualified legal protection for many months and are also subjected to unlawful torture and other forms of physical and moral pressure.
In January of this year, Ali Aliyev, an opposition public figure and an ardent critic of the authorities, was sentenced to prison on defamatory charges for an interview given to the independent online television channel OsmanqiziTV.
In February, a well-known reporter and LGBT activist, Avaz Shikhmammadov (a.k.a. Avaz Hafizli), who had repeatedly appealed to the law enforcement agencies of Azerbaijan asking to protect his life from incoming threats, was savagely murdered.
In March, several high-profile investigative journalists received threats from high-ranking officials and representatives of the authorities demanding an end to anti-corruption investigations.
At the end of April, a group of people, allegedly employees of law enforcement agencies or special services of Azerbaijan, abducted a former prisoner of conscience, an ardent critic of the authorities, blogger activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev. The latter was subsequently subjected to torture and inhuman treatment for several hours: the abductors stripped B. Hajiyev naked, beat him, urinated on him and threatened to rape him, filming everything on video camera. The abductors forced Hajiyev to remove critical publications about government officials and warned him that if he continued to publicly criticize officials, then next time he would be raped and then killed.
All of the above-mentioned facts of pressure and fear for their own lives have led some well-known journalists to a decision to completely curtail their anti-corruption investigations. Most journalists and bloggers in the country are forced now to engage in serious self-censorship.
Since the beginning of the year, several bloggers living in political exile in France, Germany, and Switzerland have also come under pressure. Unlike in Azerbaijan, where crimes against journalists go unpunished in most cases, law enforcement agencies of the European countries where attempts on the lives of critics of the authorities were recorded have launched criminal investigations. Under some of these investigations, potential perpetrators of crimes have already been detained as suspects.
The IRFS welcomes the Motion for a Resolution dated May 2, 2022, initiated by 38 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and considers it necessary to strengthen international monitoring of violations of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.
The IRFS calls on the international community, including the heads of authorized structures of the UN, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and the European Union, to condemn the government for a new wave of repression against dissent and freedom of the press. The IRFS believes these structures should demand from the political leadership of Azerbaijan to fulfill the country’s international obligations in ensuring fundamental human rights.
The IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to investigate all crimes against journalists and guarantee the safety of journalists so that they can continue their professional activities unhindered.