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Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) is deeply concerned by the escalating crackdown on media which culminated in the intensified legal pressure on the leading opposition newspaper, Azadliq. IRFS calls on President of Azerbaijan to use his power to stop attacks on press freedom. The Azadliq newspaper is ordered to pay damages of 62,000 AZN, in what is apparently the second attempt within a month to censor the press.
IRFS strongly condemns the decisions of the Supreme Court and Appeals Court, issued on February 14 and February 19, in a defamation case initiated by Baku Metro head Tagi Ahmadov and Bina Shopping Center owner Kabira Mammadova against Azadliq newspaper. IRFS considers this decision as a suppression of critical media and reiterates that it is profoundly concerned about the use of defamation lawsuits to intimidate and silence criticism, opposition or dissent.
“The wave of defamation lawsuits against Azadliq newspaper is a clear attempt to silent opposition press ahead of October’s presidential elections. The defamation lawsuits are also seeking to prevent open public debate on issues of public interest, thereby abusing the right of the people of Azerbaijan to access information’, says IRFS Chair Emin Huseynov.
IRFS strongly believes that all criminal defamation laws violate the guarantee of freedom of expression.
IRFS also notes that unduly harsh sanctions such as fines, violate the right to freedom of expression, particularly when the fines are extraordinary high as in the Azadliq newspaper case.
IRFS calls upon the Azerbaijani government and officials to be tolerant to criticisms of the media and refrain from suppressing the freedom of expression by means of exerting strong financial pressure.
IRFS calls on International organizations to demand from Azerbaijani government to put an end to the pressure on press and fulfill its obligations undertaken before international organizations.