U.S. lawmakers express concerns over systematic attacks on independent media in the post-soviet region

Top U.S. lawmakers, media watchdogs and industry leaders​,​ on Wednesday expressed their deep concerns over systematic attacks on journalists in the post-Soviet countries including Azerbaijan.

"Free and independent media in post-Soviet region is important now more than ever," said Congressman Steve Chabot during a congressional briefing held by the Helsinki Commission, and the House Freedom of the Press Caucus, Turan's Washington correspondent reports.

For Congressman Chabot, authoritarian regimes "must not be allowed to win battle of ideas." Job of journalists he said, is to speak truth to power, hold governments accountable.

"Every day, journalists risk their lives to bring news and information to people around the world," added Congressman Adam Schif, co-chair of the House Freedom of the Press Caucus.

Helsinki Commission's Jordan Warlick reminded the audience that today, journalists in post-Soviet states risk intimidation, harassment, arrest, and even murder for their work. Those who criticize the government or investigate sensitive issues like corruption do so at their own peril. More often than not, cases remain unresolved and victims and families do not see justice.

"Increasing pressure by governments, whether overt or subtle, is closing the space for independent journalism, honest dialogue, and the free flow of information," added Amanda Bennett, director of Voice of America.

According to her, in August this year, two VoA stringers in Azerbaijan were summoned to the Tax Ministry. Both were interrogated for about two hours.

"One of the journalists told VOA she felt threatened by the tone of the two investigators when her interrogation veered off into questions about her ties to VOA, her salary, and bank account. Her legal representative was not allowed into the meeting. She said she was afraid for herself and her family, and asked VOA not to leave her alone against the Azeri authorities."

For Bennett, if history is a guide, once officials start making public accusations against journalists - then threats and intimidation, and sometimes physical violence , follow. "Anytime a journalist is attacked, threatened, abused - it has a dampening effect on the freedom of the press."

Yet, she said, it is a mistake to think that if we are shut down the result is only silence.

There are others waiting behind us to fill the gap"

In his speech, Thomas Kent, president of FFE/RL said that they are suing Azerbaijan in the ECHR over the forcible closure of our bureau there in 2014.

Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator, called Azerbaijan "one of the most censored countries in the world, [where] an autocratic government has continued to go a fter the press with retaliatory charges, and, disturbingly, has been expanding its censorship abroad."

This year alone, Azerbaijan imprisoned six journalists in addition to the five it was already holding the year before. "​

Disturbingly, Azerbaijan is now extending its justice code abroad," she added.

Most disturbing is the case of Afgan Mukhtarli, a freelance journalist who contributed to Meydan TV, and the London-based Institute of War and Peace Reporting. Mukhtarli fled to Georgia from Azerbaijan in 2014 after receiving threats over his investigative reporting on corruption in Azerbaijan"s Defense Ministry.

On May 29 this year, Mukhtarli"s wife reported him as missing. The journalist"s lawyer Elchin Sadygov in Baku told CPJ that Mukhtarli had been abducted from Tbilisi and forcefully brought to Azerbaijan, CPJ documented at the time.

"Before he disappeared, Mukhtarli had been investigating the assets of Azerbaijan's first family in Georgia. Azeri authorities charged Mukhtarli with illegally crossing the b

order, and bringing in contraband, according to Sadygov, who said Mukhtarli told him the police planted $11,200 in his pocket while he was unconscious.

Ogneanova urged the Helsinki Commission and the House Freedom of the Press Caucus to make press freedom a priority, and take a firm stand against censorship as it is displayed in Azerbaijan, Russia, and other nations of the former Soviet bloc.

A.Raufoglu

Washington D.C.

Leave a review

Politics

Сможет ли Москва сорвать уход Еревана под крыло Запада? - беседа с экспертом по Центральной Азии Аркадиtv Дубновым в программе "Çətin sual"




Follow us on social networks

News Line