Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has denied any involvement in the attempted murder of Mahammad Mirzali, a dissident Azerbaijani blogger who found a refuge in France, or in the harassment of other critics of his government who are now based abroad, and has instead accused Reporters Without Borders (RSF) of bias.
In an interview yesterday for the French state-owned international TV news channel France 24, Aliyev condemned what he called RSF’s “biased position” and “very unfair approach towards Azerbaijan.”
Azerbaijan is one of the world’s worst places as regards respect for freedom of the media and is ranked 167th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index. So, is RSF’s position “biased”? For the answer, you just have to look at the actual state of journalism in Azerbaijan.
Access to the leading independent news websites is blocked. Most critical media outlets have been silenced or have been forced to relocate abroad. The few independent journalists still inside the country risk being jailed at any moment. The main suspects in the 2005 murder of Elmar Huseynov, a journalist who investigated high-level corruption, are still at large. And the authorities used NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to spy on around 40 journalists, including some living abroad.
“No one has done them any harm,” Aliyev said, referring to Azerbaijani refugees in France. Mirzali was nonetheless stabbed more than ten times in the centre of the northwestern city of Nantes, where he lives, and was repeatedly warned in his own language that he would be killed if he didn’t stop criticising the Aliyev family in his blog.
“Such placating words will only fool some parliamentarians and leaders in Europe whose blindness to the reality of the state of freedoms in Azerbaijan has been bought by means of petrodollars,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.