Joint statement on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan

December 11th, 2012
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, Azerbaijan Media Center and Media Rights Institute express deep concern over the deteriorating freedom of expression situation in Azerbaijan and calls upon the authorities to end its policy of repression against the dissent.

The fact that gives rise to serious concerns is that even today, on December 10th Human Rights Day, local journalists and human rights activists have been subject to pressure in Azerbaijan. As such, human rights activist Malahat Nasibova, and journalists Elman Abbasov, Hakimeldostu Mehdiyev and Ilgar Nasibov have been insulted and physically assaulted by employees of the Nakhchivan Customs Office, while they were performing their professional duties.

A number of Azerbaijani journalists were attacked and intimidated throughout 2012. The cases of Radio Liberty correspondent Khadija Ismayilova and IRFS correspondent Idrak Abbasov are clear examples of the persecution and harassment of journalists for their professional activities.
There is a total impunity for illegal actions against journalists, despite of the fact that there are multiple witnesses of such actions. A few weeks ago several journalists were physically attacked by police at an opposition protest, in front of the multiple witnesses. Although photos and videos depicting the police officer’ attack on journalists wearing Press Jackets have been presented to the Interior Ministry, the assailants have not been punished yet.
The cases of the Monitor magazine editor-in-chief Elmar Huseynov, whose politically motivated murder in March 2005 was a subject of wide speculation, and the journalist and writer Rfaig Tagi, who died in November 2011 after a brutal stabbing, are still unsolved and those who are responsible have not been held accountable.
It worth to note that currently in Azerbaijan there are nine journalists and three human rights activists in custody on politically motivated charges, including but not limited to Khural newspaper chief editor Avaz Zeynalli, Tolishi-Sado newspaper chief editor Hilal Mammadov and human rights defender Vidadi Isgandarov.
In 2012 the Azerbaijani authorities made restrictive amendments to local legislation that have further deteriorated the situation regarding the access to information. It should be underlined that the Human Rights Commissioner (Ombudswoman), who also possesses the authority of Information Commissioner, fails to perform her duties serving the interest of the authorities.
Another alarming fact is the lack of pluralism in programs of state, public and private broadcasters, which will probably make it impossible to conduct truly fair presidential elections in October of 2013.
Internet can be regarded as relatively open space for free expression. However government crackdown can be felt here as well, which partly results in self-censorship amongst internet users.
Today, on the International Human Rights Day, we once urge the Azerbaijani authorities to demonstrate political will to free all the arrested journalists and human rights defenders, to find and punish those who murder journalists and interfere with their professional activities, and bring the domestic legislation in line with international standards and obligations.
We also call upon the international community, particularly the OSCE, Council of Europe, European Union and the United Nations Organization, to demand the Azerbaijani government to comply with its obligations with regard to the freedom of expression.