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IRFS appeals to President Obama to address press freedom issues during meeting with President Aliyev

(IRFS/IFEX) - 22 September, 2010, Baku, Azerbaijan - IRFS wrote a letter to President Obama ahead of his bilateral meeting with President Aliyev:

Dear President Obama,

Based on information released by the White House, you have a bilateral meeting scheduled with Ilham Aliyev, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, in the framework of the 65th UN General Assembly session.

The Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act you signed into law was a watershed event for press freedom in the world; this is particularly important for Azerbaijan. As you know, the situation of freedom of speech and expression in Azerbaijan is unacceptable. None of the physical and verbal harassment against journalists, nor the one murder case - of Elmar Huseynov, killed in 2005 - has been solved. There are advertising and circulation problems with print media, the TV channels operating in the country are under government control, and licencing of new electronic mass media is limited. The broadcast radio situation in Azerbaijan is also grim. In January 2009, authorities banned foreign radio stations VOA, RFE/RL, and BBC from local FM frequencies. Furthermore, the defamation law in Azerbaijan, which has not been removed, maintains the threat of imprisonment for journalists. State agencies are continuing to file lawsuits against journalists and mass media outlets.

In addition, we want to draw your attention to the fact that a journalist, editor-in-chief of "Gundelik Azerabaycan" and "Realniy Azerbaycan" newspapers, Eynulla Fatullayev, and two young bloggers, Emin (Milli) Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizadeh, are in prison. The three have been imprisoned for expressing their opinions. International organizations have recognized them as prisoners of conscience. Local NGOs have enough proof to show that they were imprisoned under false accusations. Despite the decision of the European Court of Human Rights requiring the immediate release of Eynulla Fatullayev, additional false accusations were made against him before his release, and his prison term has been extended. Meanwhile, although the young bloggers have faced physical attacks and there are photos proving it, they were arrested under the false accusation of hooliganism.

Although we have attempted to inform our government of these concerns and to make constructive suggestions, all our appeals to the authorities of Azerbaijan have been ignored. Given your demonstrated appreciation and understanding of the importance of freedom of expression, we would like to request that during your upcoming meeting with President Aliyev, you raise these concerns and discuss ways to resolve these issues.

We believe the Azerbaijani government needs to do the following:

• immediately release Azerbaijan's three prisoners of conscience – Eynulla Fatullayev, Adnan Hajizade and Emin (Milli) Abdullayev ;
• find and prosecute the people responsible for the murder of journalist Elmar Huseynov;
• liberalize the law on broadcasting; allow foreign radio stations to be broadcast and permit foreign investment in the broadcasting sector;
• ensure that laws guaranteeing freedom of information are implemented and adhered to;
• decriminalize defamation;
• fulfill its international obligations in the area of human rights, especially those related to freedom of expression;
• withdraw measures currently being pursued by government officials to increase their control over the Internet.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Emin Huseynov,
Chairman
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety

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