UNESCO Must Act to Ensure Press Freedom in Azerbaijan

February 14th, 2014

Statement

On the World Radio Day (February 13), crackdown against media has reached new lows in Azerbaijan prompting Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) to urge UNESCO to make clear it will stand up for free expression in Azerbaijan.

The UNESCO- proclaimed World Radio Day seeks raise awareness about the importance of radio, facilitate access to information through radio and enhance networking among broadcasters.

‘A force for freedom of expression and pluralism, radio is essential to building inclusive knowledge societies and to promoting respect and understanding between people”, said UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova in her message on the occasion of the World Radio Day.

Last month, Ms. Bokova expressed her appreciation for Azerbaijan’s support to the UNESCO’s global mission and active participation in its work.

UNESCO promotes freedom of expression and press freedom as a basic human right, through sensitization and monitoring activities. It also fosters media independence and pluralism as prerequisites and major factors of democratization by providing advisory services on media legislation, and sensitizing governments, parliamentarians and other decision-makers.

IRFS reminds that state of media freedom, which is amongst UNESCO’s core values, is alarming in Azerbaijan. The state-controlled broadcasting system has become the political mouthpiece for the ruling power. Most of Azerbaijan’s radio stations are controlled by the government, which also controls approval of broadcast licenses. The broadcast media outlets not sponsored or linked with the state are unable to obtain licenses – for example, Objective TV, an independent media which has been critical of the authorities in its reporting, has been repeatedly unsuccessful in its attempts to acquire a terrestrial license and is thus forced to operate only on Internet.

Since January 2009,local radio broadcasts of key international news services, including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Voice of America, have been banned from accessing national frequencies in Azerbaijan. In a country with a tight government control over media, the
 ban on the international radio stations resulted in a situation whereby there is virtually no diversity of views in the nationwide broadcast media any more.

The 2013 presidential election, just like all previous elections in Azerbaijan, was undermined by limitations on the freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

Azerbaijan has undergone two Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) by the Human Rights Council, one in 2009, and one in April 2013. As highlighted by IRFS along with the International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan in a coalition NGO submission for 2013 review, Azerbaijan failed to implement a number of recommendations it accepted during the first UPR in 2009. The submission focused on freedom of expression, documenting violations including a failure to protect the right to life of journalists; impunity for violence against journalists; violations of the right to private life; 
politically motivated arrests and imprisonment; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; legislative restrictions on freedom of expression; restrictions on freedom of expression online; and state control of the media.

To this end, IRFS calls on UNESCO to prioritize freedom of expression and press freedom in Azerbaijan, both publicly and privately, and refrain from giving the country unmerited praise.