President’s chief spin doctor sharpens anti-media rhetoric as election nears

July 13th, 2013

Aliyev’s administration does not have an imminent plan to pardon jailed journalists ahead of the National Press Day, Head of the sociopolitical department of the presidential administration, Ali Hasanov said at the  6th congress of the Azerbaijani journalists on July 11. Hasanov, “famous” for his attacks on  the independent media and civil society, is now escalating warnings that those how oppose the regime could be targeted if they do not stop “anti-Azerbaijani” activities.

As such, Hasanov slammed  opposition newspaper Azadliq for “re-publishingthe negative stories about Azerbaijan bythe foreign press”.  Hasanov also appears nervous as the newspaper continues to publish critical pieces written by “the foreign diplomats that used to operate in Azerbaijan”.

“There are some individuals in Azerbaijani journalism who can’t distinguish the state interests from those of the government. As a result, the Armenian press spreads the translations from our press all over the world”, Hasanov said.

 He continued: “Individuals from the Freedom House and other organizations, for example Rebecca Vincent from Human Rights Watch (in fact she is an ex-employee of the London-based Article 19) takes revenge on Azerbaijan. She (Rebecca Vincent) speaks out on the Al-Jazeera channel every day (NB: As of July 13, Rebecca Vincent has written four op-eds for Al-Jazeera on a freelance basis available here: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/profile/rebecca-vincent-.html).

 “She used to work at the embassy of US, but got fired later”, Hasanov said.(NB: Rebecca Vincent worked at the U.S. Embassy in Baku from June 2006 to June 2008, completing a normal two-year posting. Far from being fired, she was actually commended for her work there, receiving a Superior Honour Award in March 2008).

 “For some reason she has wholly devoted herself to anti-Azerbaijani activities” Hasanov declared.

 Operating against the state instead of criticizing the authorities has become a common practice, he noted.

 Hasanov’s ominous remarks once again demonstrate Aliyev regime hostility and intolerance to the critics.

 Furthermore, Hasanov’s negative comments on activity of the international human rights defender Rebecca Vincent revealed that the authorities of Azerbaijan are behind the ban on her entrance to Azerbaijan.

In addition to verbal attacks, all human rights NGOs working in Azerbaijan are already subject to stringent regulations: they are required to report to the authorities on their activities and make information available on request, as well as submit detailed financial reports.

Hasanov’s speech, which was intrusive in nature to the activities of Azadliq newspaper, is also a violation of the freedom of speech. The government and public figures must be tolerant towards criticism and respect freedom of speech. Although the government has the obligation to ensure freedom of speech before international organizations and by domestic legislation, it takes steps towards destroying the free press, instead of fulfilling those obligations.

Such a speech about journalists by the government official less than 3 months before the presidential election shows that the pressure on the independent press will increase on the eve of elections and afterwards.