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Several journalists assaulted by police during demonstration

(IRFS/IFEX) - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) strongly condemns the recent violence against journalists and assesses it as pressure against freedom of speech.

On 26 April 2010, journalists were physically assaulted by police and unidentified plain clothed individuals during an action conducted by the Azadlig bloc to protest against the violation of freedom of assembly, in front of Icheri Sheher metro station.

Violence was used against journalists along with participants, and journalists were prevented from fulfilling their professional duties. IRFS representative Mehman Huseynov was among the victims. A policeman pushed him and hit his video camera. As a result, the camera's microphone was broken. Then one of the plain clothed individuals kicked him and hurt his leg. IRFS notes that it is clear that the attackers were employees of the Interior Ministry because several of them took part in other actions wearing police uniforms.

Journalist Afgan Mukhtarli told IRFS that he tried to video record the detention of Azerbaijan Popular Front Party Deputy Chairman Nuraddin Mammadli by the police at 11:30 a.m., before the action started, when the police used violence against him and broke his photo camera. They then took him into a police car and drove him in Lokbatan settlement where he was released.

More than 50 members of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Liberal Party, Citizen and Development Party (these parties are included in the Azadlig bloc) were detained during the demonstration that was organized to protest against the violation of freedom of assembly. They were taken to an unidentified location in police cars and on buses that were brought to the site beforehand. Sabail District Police Department Deputy Chief Kamal Valishov told the journalists none of the detained individuals would be taken to the police department and that they would be released after they were distanced from the area.

However, about 30 people were taken to Sabail Police District Unit #8. The same evening, IRFS found out that the cases of ten of these people were submitted to court. Interior Ministry Spokesperson Ehsan Zahidov told Radio Liberty that protocol was respected, in accordance with the Administrative Errors Code regarding ten people, and was sent to court.

IRFS declares that the act of preventing media representatives from doing their legal professional work and filming is a violation of journalists' rights to freely gather and distribute information. This incident contradicts article 50 (freedom of information) of the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic and article 10 (Freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In addition, interference in journalists' work creates liability under article 163 (interference in journalists' work) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan Republic.

IRFS notes that both interference in the professional work of journalists and use of physical pressure are held as a liability; therefore the persons who committed these violations should be held responsibile as it is envisaged by law.

IRFS calls on Azerbaijan's government and law-enforcement organs to respect international and local laws, create conditions for normal work of journalists, and punish those who interfere in the work of journalists and employ pressure against them.

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