IFJ Raises Alarm over Azerbaijans Plummeting Record on Press Freedom

May. 26, 2007

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said today that recent arrests and attacks on journalists in Azerbaijan marked a new low for a country whose respect for press freedom has plummeted in recent years.

Azerbaijans government has demonstrated a shocking level of contempt for independent media with the latest imprisonment of two more journalists, said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. The government must repeal its criminal defamation law, release the seven journalists currently in jail and end its pattern of intimidation of independent media.

Police recently raided a meeting on journalists rights in the capital city of Baku. The police tried to arrest journalists but after protests from the participants they did not. About 150 journalists, editors and leaders of journalist organizations as well as many well known human rights defenders participated in the meeting.

Meeting participants demanded an end to a law that allows for prison sentences for journalists convicted of defamation. They called on the government to find and charge those responsible for the killing of Monitor editor-in-chief Elmar Huseynov and for investigating and prosecuting anyone involved in physical attacks on journalists. Participants also called for the immediate release of jailed journalists, including editor-in-chief of Daily Azerbaijan and Real Azerbaijan Eynulla Fatullayev, and that government attacks on media and individual journalists stop immediately.

On Sunday, officers from the Emergency Situations Ministry evicted the newspapers editorial staff from its offices, claiming that the lower floors of the building were in a dangerous condition. Investigators seized documents and computer records and the office was sealed off by investigators, according to press reports.

Fatullayev has been charged with multiple crimes in an apparent attempt to stifle independent media. On Wednesday he was accused of making a terrorist threat. Last month, a Baku court found Fatullayev guilty of disseminating false information about a 1992 attack during the country’s six-year war with Armenia over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Last year, a court gave Fatullayev a two-year suspended sentence for libelling a top law enforcement official.

Mukhalifat newspaper editor-in-chief Rovshan Kabirliand and journalist Yashar Aghazade were sentenced last week to 2 years and 6 months in jail based on a claim by President Alievs uncle Jalal Aliyev that they had defamed him. The judgment brought by a Baku court was carried out immediately and the two journalists are now in jail.

The number of journalists behind bars in Azerbaijan is staggering and has a chilling effect on media in the country, White said. The government seems to be sending a message that critical reporting can land you in jail.

For more information contact the IFJ at 32 2 235 2207
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries worldwide

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