The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns Azerbaijani law enforcement agencies for mistreatment and unfounded detention of journalists by police and plain clothes agents at an opposition protest on January 26 and considers these actions to be deliberate hindrances to professional activities of journalists. During the protest, police officers used force to expel journalists with or without press jackets away from the location of demonstration. Several media representatives were taken to police offices. Among the detainees were 1news.az reporter Zaur Rasulzadeh and blogger Fuad Hajiyev who was also filming the protest action. On both occasions, the journalists introduced themselves, however the police continued their illegal actions. Interior Ministry officer Orkhan Akhundzadeh, dressed in plain clothes, was particularly active in ordering groundless detention of journalists, who said that journalists were detained because of not wearing identifiable press jackets.
IRFS strongly condemns the police for indiscriminate use of tear gas as a weapon against peaceful protesters and journalists. As such, police used the tear gas against detained journalists and activists while they were in the bus. Commonly used by for crowd control, the tear gas, especially when used in large quantities and in enclosed spaces, poses serious health risks and even causes death. IRFS reminds that the security forces must be instructed on how to use tear gas in line with international policing standards.
Another plain clothes police officer spat at one of the journalists attempting to provoke a conflict. Plain clothes law enforcement officers repeatedly attempted to push journalists to the ground taking advantage of denseness of the crowds. On one occasion, while filming the protest, Yurd TV reporter Emin Shahverdizadeh was deliberately pushed from behind by a plain clothes policeman and hit Objective TV reporter RashadAliyev. Both of the journalists fell on the ground, as a result of which Aliyev suffered leg injury and the video camera belonging to the Yurd TV reporter was broken.
IRFS declares that deliberate mistreatment of journalists wearing press jackets and performing their professional activities is the indicators of Azerbaijani authorities’ intolerance to freedom of expression. IRFS also believes that detention of journalists, even those not wearing press jackets, is a blatant violation of the law and arbitrariness of the police. IRFS reminds the law enforcement officers that journalists are not obligated by law to wear illuminated press jackets, i.e. they wear it at their own will so that police could easily distinguish them from protesters. Not wearing press jackets do not give law-enforcement agencies the right to detain journalists or hinder their work.
Journalists have repeatedly faced police brutality and mistreatment in the past three months, irrespective of wearing press jackets. Although the victims complained about definite police officers to the Interior Ministry, the latter has not taken any measure to punish those officers. This impunity results in growing police violence against journalists at demonstrations.
IRFS declares that interference with the professional activities of journalists is the violation of the right of access to information, which is protected under Article 50 of the Azerbaijani Constitution (freedom of information) and Article 10 of the European Convention (freedom of expression). Not the least, impeding professional activities of a journalist creates liability under Article 163 of the Constitution.
IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government and law enforcement agencies to end violence against journalists, to punish those police officers who use force against journalists and to take the necessary measures to prevent similar events in the future.
IRFS also calls upon international organizations to keep focus on attacks against journalists while performing professional duties and demand the Azerbaijani government to find and punish those who are responsible for these attacks.
More about state of fundamental freedoms in Azerbaijan here