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Freedom of expression and independent media essential to ensuring fair elections, says International Partnership Group

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 07.09.10 Baku - The International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan is launching a three-day freedom of expression mission to Azerbaijan today, during which ten international non-governmental organisations will highlight their serious concerns regarding the freedom of expression situation in the country, which has been unfolding with little attention from the international media spotlight.

Ten representatives from human rights, freedom of expression, press freedom, journalists' protection, media development and publishers' organisations will conduct meetings with government officials and civil society activists during the mission. With Azerbaijan's parliamentary elections slated for 7 November, the mission comes at a critical time and aims at pressing for the necessary improvement of the situation for freedom of expression in the country.

The mission's representatives are calling upon the authorities to fully comply with Azerbaijan's international commitments to freedom of expression and to decriminalise defamation. In addition, the mission is calling on the authorities to conduct effective and independent investigations into all cases of violence against journalists and to release those imprisoned for expressing critical opinions, including journalist Eynulla Fatullayev and bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade.

"The current state of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan is alarming. We are undertaking this mission to put a spotlight on this situation, which should be considered among the most pressing human rights priorities in Azerbaijan," said Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. "We are asking the Azerbaijani authorities to undertake a number of concrete steps to improve the freedom of expression climate in the country, including by releasing those imprisoned for expressing critical opinions, investigating and prosecuting cases of violence against journalists, and decriminalising defamation," continued Callamard.

The International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan includes representatives from ARTICLE 19, Freedom House, Index on Censorship, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, International Federation of Journalists, Media Diversity Institute, Press Now, Open Society Foundations, Reporters sans frontières, and World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

"Azerbaijan was ranked 146th out of 175 countries in Reporters without Borders latest Press Freedom Index. The hounding of the press and the harassment of journalists and bloggers daring to criticize the government or denounce corruption have resulted in a worrying lack of pluralism in the media landscape, which is especially worrisome in the run-up to the elections," said Lucie Morillon, spokesperson for Reporters sans frontières.

The ten participating organisations are all members of the International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan, and are active in working towards the promotion and protection of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.

"The continuing decline of press freedom in Azerbaijan demands international attention as journalists, bloggers and activists have come under increasing threat," said Freedom House's Freedom of Expression Officer Courtney C. Radsch. "Through this trip, we express our solidarity with Azeri journalists and citizens who are working to expand freedom of expression and will use this opportunity to make specific recommendations to the Azerbaijani government on how it can improve the situation."

"Index on Censorship urges the Azerbaijani government to uphold its commitments to protect and secure freedom of expression and bring its legislation in line with international standards, in particular by decriminalising defamation," said Rohan Jayasekera, Associate Editor of Index on Censorship.

"The depth of self-censorship among Azeri journalists is depressing. Instead of moving away from the Soviet era, Azerbaijan is going back to it. Some journalists don't dare to take notes at Fatulajev's hearing even for their own records in fears it could be seen as siding with him," said Milica Pesic, Executive Director of the Media Diversity Institute.

The International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan will be attending a Civil Forum on Freedom of Expression Conference on September 9th, in Baku.

Freedom House
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
Reporters Without Borders
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Non-IFEX member partners:

Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Media Diversity Institute
Open Society Institute Azerbaijan
Press Now

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