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IFEX members spotlight decline of press freedom

The International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan, including six IFEX members and four other organisations, launched a three-day mission on 7 September to shed light on the current state of freedom of expression in the country. The Group called on authorities to release those imprisoned for expressing critical opinions and to decriminalise defamation. With Azerbaijan's parliamentary elections slated for 7 November, the mission aimed to press for the necessary improvement of the poor situation for freedom of expression, "which has been unfolding with little attention from the international media spotlight."

The mission also called on authorities to conduct independent investigations into all cases of violence against journalists and to release journalist Eynulla Fatullayev and bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade.

The International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan includes IFEX members ARTICLE
19, Freedom House, Index on Censorship, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). Other members of the Group came from the Media Diversity Institute, Press Now, Open Society Foundations and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).

Freedom House said, "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."

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

The mission also commented on the murder of journalist Elmar Huseynov in 2005 and the persistent targeting of critics in the years following his death. Also, state influence and dominance of the broadcast media has stifled pluralism in the media landscape. The number of independent media outlets has shrunk since 2005 parliamentary elections.

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