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The latest arrests of journalists and criminal changes against senior editor in Azerbaijan are further evidence that human rights in the country are at the state of emergency, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) has warned.
The twenty one journalists were detained last Friday while covering a peaceful action in support of Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist with RFE/RL, who is increasingly under pressure over her hard-hitting reporting. The journalists were placed on the squad bus where their professional equipment, including the mobile phones were confiscated. They were taken to the police station. When they were released a short time later, the footage that had been on their mobile phones and cameras had been deleted.
‘The fact that police officers would harass and detain members of the press as they engaged in their duty to report on a public event is disturbing,’ IRFS CEO and Chair Emin Huseynov said. ‘Reporters should be able to do their work covering demos and protests, so long as they are not breaking laws or interfering with police action’, he stressed.
The arrests come days after a chief editor of P.S. Nota newspaper, Serdar Alibayli was detained and sentenced to two months of pretrial detention, on a charge of armed hooliganism. IRFS condemns Wednesday’s arrest of Alibayli and calls the hooliganism charges against him political.
‘It is more than likely that the arrest of Alibayli was triggered by his sharp criticism of the government’, comments Emin Huseynov. ‘We demand not only his immediate release but also the dropping of ridiculous charges against him’, he stressed.
This crackdown appears intended to stifle critical voices in the lead-up to the election in October.
IRFS is calling on the authorities to halt the implementation of repressive measures which conflict with Azerbaijan’s obligations under international human rights law and treaties to which it is a party, and to respect and protect the Azerbaijani people’s rights to freedom of opinion and expression.