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Two journalists assaulted, detained in Mardakan

(IRFS/IFEX) - Baku, 29 July 2010 - On 28 July, Elmin Bedelov, a reporter for "Yeni Musavat" newspaper, and Anar Garayli, from "Milli Yol" newspaper and deputy editor of the website http://www.pia.az , were assaulted while they were preparing a report about wealthy residents in Mardakan. A camera belonging to "Yeni Musavat" newspaper was damaged. The journalists reported the incident to the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS).

The injured journalists said that they wanted to take photos of the villas that were said to belong to Bine Trade Center director Kabira Mammadova and Transportation Minister Ziya Mammadov. However, they were distracted by a luxurious house. After they took a photo of this home, a person who looked like a sportsman attempted to force them into a car. Then, four or five individuals arrived at the scene and began to beat the journalists. "They held my feet and slammed my head on the ground. Then they took us into the house that we wanted to take a photo of, and they began to beat us there," said Bedelov.

"Once they knew that we were journalists, they called someone. They took our mobile phones and switched them off. We were detained for three hours. Then they said that they would decide what to do with us after Mammadov's brother-in-law came. One person, who introduced himself as the owner of the house, came and interrogated us and then returned our mobile phones. They said that we had taken pictures illegally, and we would be held responsible for any incident that happened there. They emphasized that they would keep an eye on us for six months and that they were going to tap our telephones. He told us to not complain about this issue," said Garayli. The journalist added that their photos were deleted and their memory card was damaged.

Bedelov told IRFS that "Yeni Musavat" management called the Ministry of Internal Affairs Service 102 and reported the incident to the press department head. An ambulance was called to the editorial office on the evening of 28 July, where Bedelov was able to receive medical assistance for the first time. Both journalists received injuries to their face and body.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs Press Service head, Ehsan Zahidov, told IRFS that they had received verbal information regarding the incident. "However, it would be better if they appealed to the Khazar District Police Department as the injured persons," said Zahidov. IRFS told Zahidov that a call was made to the 102 service. Zahidov's response was that the Ministry investigates all appeals received through the 102 service and then legally evaluates them.

On 29 July, a group of representatives from mass media and human rights organizations visited the area where the incident took place. They were also subjected to harassment. A number of people who looked like sportsmen did not allow the journalists to take photos or video recordings and they threatened them. Several minutes later, the leader of the group gave his phone to "Yeni Musavat" newspaper deputy editor-in-chief, Azer Aykhan, and said that the owner of the house wanted to talk to him. The person introduced himself as Elchin, a businessman, and tried to claim that the journalists were not beaten.

IRFS strongly condemns the harassment against Bedelov and Garayli while they were carrying out their professional work.

IRFS declares that impeding a journalist's work is a violation of the right to freely gather and disseminate information. This is contradictory to article 50 (freedom of information) of the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic, article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention of Human Rights, and article one (everyone has right to legally seek, obtain, transfer, prepare and disseminate information) of the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic. Interfering with journalists' professional activity is also a crime under article 163 of the Criminal Code of the Azerbaijan Republic.

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government and law enforcement to respect local and international laws, to create the proper conditions for journalists to do their work, and to fully prosecute the perpetrators.

Click here to see a video of the site where the journalists were assaulted
Click here to see photos of the area
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