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Human rights defender harassed for publishing report on press violations

(IRFS/IFEX) - The Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS) is concerned that the Media Rights Institute's (MRI) program coordinator, Khalid Agaliyev, was called to the Baku City Chief Police Department (BCCPD) on 21 July 2010. IRFS views this action against Agaliyev as a pressure tactic used against an independent NGO.

Agaliyev was called to the BCCPD because MRI distributed a semi-annual report on 20 July regarding the "legal situation of the media in Azerbaijan in 2010." BCCPD Deputy Chief Yashar Aliyev and Baku City Deputy Prosecutor Fazil Hasanaliyev participated in the meeting. Aliyev and Hasanaliyev told Agaliyev that the goal of the meeting was to investigate the cases of physical harassment against the journalists named in the report. Agaliyev was asked questions about the pressure tactics and attacks against the journalists that were described in the report. Aliyev and Hasanaliyev said they investigate all cases of pressure against journalists and they doubted the validity of the numbers stated in the report regarding the harassment of journalists, to which Agaliyev responded that the statistics were gathered according to information that was published in the media. They told Agaliyev to be careful not to damage Azerbaijan's image when reports of this type are prepared.

However, IRFS believes that the BCCPD and the Baku City Prosecutor's Office do not have the authority to conduct any discussions with NGOs.

IRFS notes that MRI and other journalist organizations (including IRFS) release similar reports on a regular basis. However, neither the BCCPD nor the Baku City Prosecutor's Office have shown the slightest bit of interest in these reports nor investigated any harassment cases before.

IRFS believes that a meeting for this purpose would have to be held with officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Chief Prosecutor's Office because these reports cover incidents taking place anywhere in the republic, not just in Baku.

IRFS also notes that the image of the country suffering because of reports prepared by an NGO would not be the concern of law-enforcement agencies.

In addition, IRFS emphasizes that a high-ranking official like Aliyev has no moral authority to exchange views with an NGO representative regarding physical harassment of journalists. In 2003, Aliyev used physical force against two journalists who were doing their work and illegally assigned several policemen under his command to use force against other journalists.

IRFS has no doubt that the MRI report is reliable and believes that calling the MRI program coordinator into the police department simply because the organization wrote about the harassment faced by journalists was really a planned action to scare off independent NGOs before the upcoming parliamentary elections.

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to cease these scare tactics. If the government is in fact interested in investigating cases involving abuses against journalists and improving the freedom of expression situation in general, then IRFS calls on it to establish a working group made up of representatives of media and journalism organizations to investigate the matter.

IRFS urges the local and international community to immediately react to this issue and to follow the case.

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