Dunja Mijatovic: Harassment of media freedom activists in Azerbaijan is intensifying

 OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović deplored today the intensifying harassment of media freedom activists and organizations, most recently the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and its Chair Emin Huseynov.

According to reports, today unidentified people in plain clothes have been attempting to breach the IRFS office while representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office searched the home of Emin Huseynov’s mother and confiscated her computer equipment. On 5 August airport authorities prevented Huseynov from leaving Baku on his way to Istanbul, where he was scheduled to receive urgent medical treatment. No official explanation of the travel ban has been given.

“The attempts to raid the IRFS office, intimidation of Emin Huseynov’s family and the imposed travel ban are further proof of a wide-scale deterioration of the media freedom situation in Azerbaijan that includes targeted persecution of independent journalists, freedom of expression advocates and bloggers,” Mijatović said. “I once again call on the authorities to stop the continued persecution of media and free voices in the country.”

Earlier, on 6 August, the Representative sent a letter to the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov asking him to lift the restrictive travel ban on Huseynov so that he may seek out the medical attention he needs.

Mijatović also noted that the bank accounts of the Media Rights Institute (MRI), a prominent Azerbaijani media NGO, and its Director Rashid Hajili have been frozen as part of the ongoing criminal restrictions selectively imposed on human rights and media freedom organizations in the country, an issue previously addressed in a 5 August statement.

In the same statement Mijatović voiced concern over the arrest of Rasul Jafarov, a free expression advocate and human rights defender.

“These cases and accompanying smear campaigns have resulted in worrying setbacks for the development of free expression in Azerbaijan that create a chilling effect on media and society as a whole,” Mijatović said. “While I do not challenge the lawful right of the authorities to scrutinize the activities of non-governmental organizations, such actions should not be aimed at silencing critical voices. I strongly urge the Government of Azerbaijan to comply with its OSCE commitments and enable journalists and freedom of expression advocates to work in an environment free from intimidation.”

There are now more than 10 members of the media in prison, convicted or awaiting a trial: the highest number in Azerbaijan the OSCE media freedom representative’s Office has observed since its establishment. Mijatovic cited the recent handing down of lengthy prison sentences to online activists and bloggers, Omar Mamedov and Abdul Abilov, on charges of illegal storage and sale of drugs; to journalist Parviz Hashimli, on charges of smuggling and illegal storage and sale of firearms; to Nijat Aliyev, editor-in-chief of the azadxeber.org news website, on various charges, including drug possession and incitement of hatred; to Sardar Alibeyli, editor-in-chief of P.S. Nota newspaper, on charges of hooliganism; and to Rashad Ramazanov, an independent blogger, on charges of illegal storage and sale of drugs.

The Representative offered her personal support and that of her Office in achieving much needed improvement of the situation with media freedom and safety of journalists in Azerbaijan. She said she was confident that a visit to Baku in the near future would help address these issues. -0-

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