Azerbaijan: No end to crackdown on free media

On the 138th anniversary of the National Press, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) stands united with Azerbaijani journalists, bloggers and social media activists who work around the clock to report the truth, despite threats of imprisonment, violence and even death.

IRFS condemns the harassment, physical and moral intimidation, persecution, and other abuse that independent media continue to face in Azerbaijan. IRFS calls on the authorities to guarantee the inalienable rights of Azerbaijani people, including, consistent with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to freedom of speech and the press.

With an unprecedented rise in the number of journalists attacked and put behind bars in the recent period coupled with restrictive legislation and indirect censorship, the space for independent media is shrinking in Azerbaijan.

IRFS believes that the reason for the deterioration of free expression in the country is the sustained and aggressive repression of the media by the government.

‘Media freedom is increasingly under assault in Azerbaijan today, and the ruling party is responsible. The regime is taking the-carrot-and-stick approach to control information, which is an attack on free speech and accountability that cannot go unchallenged’, comments IRFS CEO and Chair Emin Huseynov.

As Azerbaijani government provides free housing for journalists in Baku, which appears to be yet another tactic to tighten state control of the media, the seven journalists are currently in detention or in prison on politically motivated charges in connection with freedom of expression.

‘Free housing for journalists amid construction boom is nothing but a bribe as it makes it harder for journalists to defy the authorities’, IRFS CEO said.

Another tactic to keep the media marginalized is limiting their access to decision-makers. ‘It seems, that President Aliyev has been avoiding talking to the Azerbaijani press since accepting his first term in 2003’, Huseynov said. The presidential office’s press pool remains a closed group of trusted and easily manipulated journalists.

The political, legal, and economic environments remain distinctly inhospitable to independent media. Legal proceedings and lawsuits continued to be used as an indirect method of censorship.

With traditional broadcast media under particularly tight government control, it appears that Azerbaijanis are also facing restrictions in accessing broadcast programs from outside of the country.Among the affected broadcasters were the RFE/RL, Meydan TV and Azerbaycan Saati. IRFS denounces deliberate jamming of satellite broadcasts that deprive Azerbaijani citizens of access to free information, and call on the authorities to abide by global telecommunications laws.

IRFS calls on the government of Azerbaijan to respond to criticism with reform not repression. No stability is possible without freedom of expression in place. IRFS reminds that encouraging an open and effective press serves to improve the environment for long-term social, political and economic stability.

IRFS regularly highlights the need to tackle impunity for attacks on journalists. Azerbaijani government must prosecute perpetrators and stop those seeking to incapacitate public oversight by blunting critical and probing reporting.

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately release the currently detained and imprisoned journalists, bloggers and activists behind bars in connection with exercising their right to freedom of expression.

IRFS is appealing to the UN, the Council of Europe and OSCE to make calls to Azerbaijan, as a member state which has obligations regarding freedom of expression, and to take appropriate measures if these calls produce no effect.