Azerbaijan’s Media Freedom Faces Downward Spiral

April 27th, 2013

Statement

Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) strongly condemns unprecedented crackdown on the media in Azerbaijan which appears to be part of a broader campaign of intimidation to forestall political unrest before the presidential election in October.

Media freedom in Azerbaijan took a severe blow days before the UN-mandated review of Azerbaijan’s human rights performance and the World Press Freedom Day as three separate incidences involving the abuse of journalists took place.

As such, on April 19 pro-government online television Ses (Voice) aired recordings of cellphone conversations between Radio Liberty correspondent Yafez Hasanov and residents of Nakhchivan. The action, which experts believe to be orchestrated by the Ministry of National Security, follows a series of similar attacks to silence Hasanov.

In a separate incident last week, another pro-government website posted pornographic video that was fabricated to portray well-known investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova engaging in sexual acts. The blackmail campaign against Radio Liberty’s Ismayilova started shortly after she published yet another hard-hitting piece exposing the business interests of the president and his family.

On April 26, a serious charge under Article 220.1 of the Criminal Code was brought against arrested journalist of Yeni Musavat newspaper, Tofig Yagublu. If convicted, Yagublu may face 12 years of imprisonment.

Finally, on April 27, Azadliq newspaper journalists, Khalid Garayev and Seymur Hazi were beaten by Transport Ministry employees in the latest sign of a crackdown on press freedom in Azerbaijan.

The campaign of smears, and intimidation comes as the regime – under mounting western pressure to curb rights violations – gears up for presidential election in October.

Notably, the wave of repression happened few days after the US State Department cataloged a series of human concerns in Azerbaijan, including intimidation, arrest, and use of force against journalists and human rights and democracy activists online and offline.

“These developments are deeply disturbing and reflect a flagrant disregard by the Azerbaijani government for the rights of its citizens and its journalists.’, comments IRFS CEO and Chair, Emin Huseynov.

‘Human rights and freedom of expression cannot and should not be considered as merely the internal matter of a country. Now, with the situation having worsened, the international organizations, and the Council of Europe in particular, should break the deadlock in the talks over Azerbaijan’s human rights record’, Huseynov said.

The ruling regime continues to use the country’s politicized and corrupt court system – through criminal cases and civil defamation lawsuits – to harass and prosecute the few remaining independent journalists and media outlets who dared to speak out about widespread abuses committed by authorities.

The right to freedom of expression and information is guaranteed and protected by the provisions of international instruments, and treaties signed and ratified by the Government of Azerbaijan, notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 19, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 19, and the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10.

In its groundbreaking resolution on safety of journalists, the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned in the strongest terms all attacks and violence against journalists, including intimidation and harassment.

IRFS therefore calls on the Azerbaijani president, the guarantor of citizens’ constitutional rights, to use his power and put an end to pressure on freedom of expression.

IRFS also calls on the international community, in particular the Council of Europe and the OSCE, to take a stronger stance and exert greater pressure on the Azerbaijani authorities to fulfill their international obligations regarding freedom of expression.

IRFS calls on the government to respect its obligations before the international organizations and most importantly, the people of Azerbaijan, and take the following immediate steps to address deteriorating situation in the media sector ahead of World Press Freedom Day:

  • Put a stop to violence and other forms of pressure against the journalists; conduct a thorough investigation into the attacks and bring the perpetrators to justice.
  • Immediately release the currently detained and imprisoned journalists behind bars in connection with exercising their right to freedom of expression.
  • Drop the charges against journalists who face jail time in connection with exercising their right to freedom of expression.
  • Review and amend national legal framework to ensure it complies with international standards for press freedom.