From Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly International
To Council of Europe
Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly expresses its concern concerning the developing complicated situation in Azerbaijan regarding freedom of speech and persecution of journalists which are accompanied with beatings and arrests. It is unacceptable that such a situation occurs in a country which has joined European Convention on Human Rights and is a member of European Organizations such as Council of Europe and OSCE.
The problems surrounding the safety of journalists have reached a very serious level. After the 2 March 2005 ordered brutal shooting of famous Monitor Journal Chief Editor Elmar Huseynov, whose murderers have not been found and whose murder case remains incomplete, many other journalists have been exposed to pressure, including from Azadlig Newspaper Fikret Huseynli (kidnapped and beaten) and Nijat Daglar (beaten by unknown people), from Zerkalo Newspaper Rustam Mikayilov and Farid Teymurkhanli (beaten by police), from Ayna Newspaper Iddrak Abbasov (beaten by police), from Bizim Yol Bahaddin Haziyev (kidnapped, brutally beaten and left an invalid for life), from Boz Gurd Newspaper Ramiz Najafli (beaten by police), and from Turan News Agency Sarvan Rizvanov (beaten by police). And finally, as a result of a disagreement with police which turned into a fist-fight, Yeni Musavat Newspaper photo-correspondent Ali Kazimli was bedridden in the hospital and at home for six months, and ultimately died.
We would like to briefly recall some of the recent repressive acts that have occurred against the press. At present seven (7) journalists are imprisoned, including four (4) that were imprisoned on the basis of articles 147 and 148 of the Republic of Azerbaijan’s Criminal Code (libel and diffamation). In addition, there are at least six (6) well-known journalists serving probation due to articles 147 and 148.
In April of this year Realny Azerbaycan Military writer Uzeir Jafarov was attacked in front of his own editorial office. He received serious head and brain trauma. Even police that have shown aggression towards journalists wearing special uniforms made at the order of the Press Council (with approval from the Interior Ministry) are not punished.
In May of this year alone, three leading independent newspapers were compelled to close : Realny Azerbaycan, Gundalik Azerbaycan and Baki Khabar. More generally, from January 2006 to May 2007, tens of court cases against the mass media have been conducted. And fines against newspapers have reached a total of over 500,000 USD. The above mentioned incidents give evidence of the end of the independent press and of the destruction of the freedom of speech itself.
As representatives of an organization that has the defense of human rights as a main purpose and which is endowed with the consultative status at the Council of Europe since 1991, we confirm that we consider these imprisoned journalists as prisoners of conscience and we call for their immediate release. We hope that Azerbaijan authorities, who claim their will of becoming equal right member of European family, will pursue internal policy conforming to European values and laws.
Bernard Dreano, Arzu Abdullayeva, Co-chairs of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly International, 25.06.07