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Norwegian filmmakers' footage, equipment confiscated by airport security guards

(Norwegian PEN/IFEX) - May 11, 2010 - Norwegian PEN, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the Human Rights House Foundation and ARTICLE 19 condemn the illegal confiscation of material and documentary footage from Norwegian filmmaker Erling Borgen and cameraman Dag Inge Dahl in Baku Airport on May 6, 2010.

We call upon Azerbaijani authorities to honour Azerbaijan's international human rights obligations and restore the seized property to the owners.

The filmmakers had been in Azerbaijan to make recordings for a documentary about imprisoned editor Eynulla Fatullayev when the materials were seized. Among the items missing from the luggage were hard disks, memory sticks containing all of the sources of information, copies of video footage and photos, as well as documents containing background information for the case.

The incident occurred at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport at 5.00 a.m. when Borgen and Dahl were leaving for Oslo. After passing security checkpoints they were told that they had too much luggage. As they were surrounded by six men - some security guards, some unidentified men - they were prevented from taking most of their hand luggage on board. The carry-on luggage was then checked in and transported without their consent. Borgen and Dahl experienced some of the guards' behaviour as threatening. When they boarded the flight, Borgen and Dahl were forced by security guards to stay at the gate until the very last minute, while several security guards checked their camera. When the filmmakers arrived in Oslo, the hard disks containing all of the sources of information regarding the Fatullayev case, memory sticks and the video footage were missing from the luggage.

"They also inspected my mobile phone," Borgen says. "I know, because they changed the language from my Norwegian to English."

Borgen and Dahl were preparing a film about freedom of expression in Azerbaijan sponsored by the Norwegian Freedom of Expression Fund, focusing on the case of imprisoned editor Fatullayev. Borgen previously made the documentary film "In the Shadow of Statoil" focusing on the murder of the "Monitor" journal editor-in-chief, Elmar Huseynov. The two journalists had spent six days in Baku interviewing a variety of reporters, human rights and press freedom defenders, and relatives of the imprisoned journalist. The missing material contained footage from the trial of Fatullayev on May 4. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights House Foundation were also present at the trial and witnessed that the presiding judge gave the Norwegian team explicit permission to film parts of the proceedings.

"The incident must be seen as a clear attempt to prevent the documentary film about the Fatullayev case from being produced. The fact that documents and memory cards containing information about the Fatullayev case were missing and the camera itself was not stolen show that the incident cannot be seen as an ordinary robbery case," says Maria Dahle, director of Human Rights House Foundation.

Borgen is a prominent member of both Norwegian PEN and the Norwegian Journalist Association.

On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Torbjørn Jagland, especially referred to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights on Fatullayev vs Azerbaijan and stated that Azerbaijan as a member state is legally bound to comply with the rulings of the Court.

Referring to the General Secretary's statement, underlining that "freedom of expression is fundamental and something all 47 member states must always defend, with neither compromise nor apology", the undersigned organisations call upon the Azerbaijani authorities:

- to return all confiscated footage and materials to Erling Borgen and Dag Inge Dahl;
- to ensure the safety of all those who assisted and gave their testimonies to the Norwegian crew during their visit to Azerbaijan; and
- to conduct an investigation concerning the incident at Heydar Aliyev International Airport and to publish the outcome of the investigation.

We also call on the European Union, OSCE, the Council of Europe, EU member states and Norway to condemn the incident as an attack against freedom of expression in Azerbaijan and to demand the return of all confiscated materials.

Carl Morten Iversen, Norwegian PEN
Bjørn Engesland, Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Maria Dahle, Human Rights House Foundation

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