(IRFS/IFEX) - Free expression advocates from around the world gathered this week in Oslo, Norway, at the IFEX General Meeting. Thirty-seven IFEX members signed on to the following statement, calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to address the deterioration in press freedom:
We, the undersigned members of International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), express concern about the continuing deterioration of the press freedom situation in Azerbaijan.
The press freedom situation has been in severe decline since the election of President Ilham Aliyev in October 2003. Defamation remains a crime in Azerbaijan for which journalists can be imprisoned, despite calls by the local and international community for its decriminalization.
Aliyev's government fails to prosecute individuals who violate the rights of journalists and implement policies to cultivate a free and transparent media environment. As a result, Aliyev has been named a 'Predator of Press Freedom' by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in its annual ranking since 2007.
On 2 March 2005, "Monitor Journal" Editor-in-Chief Elmar Huseynov was murdered. Although Aliyev promised Huseynov's family to find and prosecute the people responsible for the journalist's murder, the case remains unsolved.
Azeri journalists face frequent physical and psychological attacks. Impunity for the perpetrators has become the status quo. Other unsolved cases include the kidnapping and brutal beating of the editor-in-chief of "Bizim Yol" newspaper, Baheddin Haziyev; the 2008 beating and stabbing of Agil Khalil, a newspaper correspondent with "Azadliq" as well as the harassment of Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) Director Emin Huseynov in 2008.
At present there are four wrongfully imprisoned journalists in Azerbaijan: the editor of "Azadlig Newspaper", Ganimat Zahid, the editor of "Realny Azerbayjan" and "Gundalik Azerbayjan" newspapers, Eynulla Fatullayev, "Bizim Yol" newspaper correspondent Mushfig Huseynov, and the founder of the newspaper "Talysh Sado", Novruzali Mammadov. Fatullayev, Zahid, and Huseynov were convicted on spurious charges - the real reason for their imprisonment is their relentless criticism of the government. Mammedov is accused of espionage and sedition for "treacherous" articles he wrote for "Talysh Sado" - an allegation disputed by local and international human rights groups. All four of these journalists are internationally recognised as political prisoners.
The free expression situation is also worsening in the media broadcast sector. At the end of 2008, the Azeri government ceased the FM radio broadcasts of Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL) and British Broadcasting Company (BBC). While these radio stations continue talks with the Azeri government, there is very little optimism that they will get back on air since the government has reneged on promises for equilateral broadcasting between countries. VOA, RFE/RL and BBC are vital sources of local and international news. These foreign radio stations are now broadcasting via internet and shortwave radio, but many people in Azerbaijan do not have access through these means and are therefore deprived of these alternative sources of programming.
Azerbaijan has two state TV channels, AZTV and Idman Azerbayjan, and a public broadcaster, ITV. These three TV stations are funded through the state budget but fail to reflect the broad spectrum of views of the Azeri people. Private tele-radio broadcasting companies also do not serve as sources of independent and objective information.
In the context of these challenges to the overall freedom of expression situation in Azerbaijan, we call on the authorities to:
- solve the murder of Elmar Huseynov
- end impunity for individuals who violate the rights of journalists and commit acts of violence against journalists
- decriminalise defamation
- release the country's wrongfully imprisoned journalists
- restore RFE/RL, VOA and BBC broadcasts on FM radio
- ensure pluralism and diversity of public and private broadcasters
Arab Archives Institute
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Centre for Independent Journalism - Malaysia
Comité por la Libre Expresión - C-Libre
Federation of Nepali Journalists
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP
Freedom of Expression Institute
Globe International Center
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Index on Censorship
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
IPS Communication Foundation - Bianet
Journaliste en danger
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión - OLA
Pacific Freedom Forum
Pakistan Press Foundation
Public Association "Journalists"
Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay
Thai Journalists Association