Azerbaijan's presidential run turns ugly with media increasingly under attack

Azerbaijan's government must respect the responsibility of journalists to document events and report the views of citizens, especially in the run-up to the next week presidential election.

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) resolutely condemns the yesterday’s crackdown on journalists at an election rally in Sabirabad, which IRFS believes to be a deliberate attack orchestrated by the local authorities.

As such, a group of journalists from independent and opposition media outlets was attacked by a pro-governmental mob yesterday whilst covering a sanctioned opposition rally in Sabirabad region in central Azerbaijan. While police officers stood by idly at the scene, the journalists were assaulted, and their equipment was damaged by the mob. Instead of dispersing the attackers,  the policemen joined them in beating journalists.

“As the election nears, the atmosphere has not been conducive to a calm working environment for the media. The crackdown on our colleagues yesterday is one more in a series of repressive measures and provocations orchestrated by those who want to stifle and intimidate any form of dissent before the election”, said IRFS CEO and Chairman Emin Huseynov.

“With more than 10 journalists languishing behind bars, the revival of the Soviet-style propaganda on the national TV channels, and total impunity for violence against journalists, we fear that the situation is rapidly getting out of control and journalists are no longer able to do their job in freedom and safety”, Huseynov stated.

The following journalists were subject to physical assault during the yesterday’s crackdown: Ramin Deko, Etimad Budagov, Sabir Bajaran, Tural Mustafayev, Nargiz Yagublu, Roya Rafiyeva and Jahangir Yusif. Bakunews internet television reporter, Ilham Rasulzadeh was detained and taken to Sabirabad Police Department. IRFS demands from Azerbaijani authorities to promptly and thoroughly investigate beating and harassment of those journalists – including in two cases, women- and to bring the attackers to justice and do their utmost to ensure the safety of Azerbaijani journalists.

IRFS believes that hindering the work of journalists is a flagrant violation of domestic and international law. Interfering with the activities of the media also constitutes infringement of the right to obtain information guaranteed under article 50 of the Azerbaijani Cosntitution (freedom of information) and article 10 of the European Convention (freedom of expression).  Interference with the professional work of journalists also creates criminal liability under article 163 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code.

IRFS expresses its regret over the Interior Ministry statement justifying the action of the police, and calls on the Ministry to make an objective assessment of the proofs that show beating of journalists by the police and to investigate this case properly.

IRFS further calls on the Azerbaijani government to immediately release the detained and jailed journalists, bloggers and human rights activists and to eliminate all the restrictions on the freedom of expression which is necessary to ensure that free and fair election environment exists.

IRFS also calls on the Council of Europe and OSCE to take necessary steps so that Azerbaijani authorities comply with the country’s freedom of expression obligations.