As Presidential Election Nears, Major Candidates are Engaged in Assault on Free Expression

Just three months before Azerbaijan’s presidential election, the major candidates have unleashed a war on their critics, in one instance calling them “traitors, betrayers and slave-minded people” and “provocateurs” who should be “hit in the mouth”, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) says.

As such, an incumbent president running for re-election, Mr. Ilham Aliyev has declared open season on his opponents, calling them “traitors, betrayers and slave-minded people”. These remarks that have been delivered before tens of policemen during National Police Day, could be considered the green light on repression and stand in sharp contrast to Mr. Aliyev’s commitments before the Azerbaijani people envisaged in the Article 12 of the Constitution.

Furthermore, IRFS is dismayed that instead of bringing to justice those responsible for the crimes against media and contrary to his obligation to guarantee safety of Azerbaijani people, President Aliyev has given the culprits “high marks”. Take an example of police officers Mr. Sahlab Bagirov and Orkhan Akhundzadeh, “famous” for their violence against journalists covering peaceful demonstrations, who have been appointed to a higher rank, i.e. major-general and lieutenant-colonel respectively.

In addition, President Aliyev expressed his great satisfaction with the crimes statistics in the country. IRFS reminds that the authorities have failed to adequately investigate murders of journalists Elmar Huseynov and Rafig Tagi and no one has been brought to justice for the attacks.

“Silencing of journalists and dissent could jeopardize the legitimacy of presidential election. This sort of remarks does not bode well for the prospect of a free and fair election”, said IRFS Chairman and CEO Emin Huseynov.

A few days after being nominated a single candidate from the opposition, Mr. Rustam Ibrahimbeyov, an Oscar winning screenwriter, declared he would ‘hit in the mouth’ those who “write provocations, slanders and lies”.  IRFS is shocked that Mr. Ibrahimbeyov, who has repeatedly declared his commitment to human rights and democracy, threatens and uses abusive language against the media.

“We once again remind that public figures should tolerate a larger degree of criticism than ordinary citizens. Not to mention a person who is about to run for presidency”, IRFS CEO said.

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to ensure the fundamental freedoms, particularly the freedom of expression in the country in the run-up to the election and fulfill the country’s commitments about the freedom of expression undertaken before the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

IRFS further calls on the international organizations to monitor the human rights situation in Azerbaijan ahead of the elections and demand that Azerbaijan lives up to its undertaken commitments.