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Without free expression, elections not free and fair, say international organisations

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 11 November 2010 - We, the nine undersigning international organisations, condemn the Azerbaijani government's failure to comply with its international obligations to freedom of expression during the period surrounding the 7 November parliamentary elections. We are deeply concerned by freedom of expression violations prior to and during these elections, which cannot be considered free and fair. We call upon the Azerbaijani authorities to take immediate steps to address these violations and to create an environment conducive to freedom of expression.

We, the undersigning organisations, share deep concerns regarding a number of worrisome freedom of expression trends in the run-up to and during Azerbaijan's 7 November parliamentary elections, including:

• The failure by the Azerbaijani government to fulfil its international commitments to freedom of expression in the pre-elections environment
• The continued imprisonment of journalists and bloggers critical of the government, including Eynulla Fatullayev, Adnan Hajizade, and Emin Milli
• Widespread self-censorship in the media
• The lack of independent and unbiased reporting and political pluralism in broadcast media in the pre-elections environment
• The biased nature of news coverage related to the elections, in favour of the Azerbaijani authorities and the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, including on state-funded AzTV
• The blocking of websites critical of the government in the pre-elections period, including eqreb.com, tinsohbeti.com, and susmayaq.biz
• Practices of intimidation and harassment of opposition candidates and journalists affiliated with opposition media outlets, including the nationwide television broadcast of a sex video involving an Azadliq newspaper editor
• The illegal detention of journalists who had witnessed instances of electoral fraud, including a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent, a journalist from the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), and an Azadliq newspaper reporter
• Other forms of interference with journalists' coverage of the elections, including the removal of journalists from some polling stations such as an RFE/RL correspondent and an IRFS journalist in Nakhchivan, and the prevention of journalists from filming and taking photographs at some polling stations and from taking notes at all polling stations.

We, the undersigning organisations, emphasise the importance of freedom of expression to democratic society, particularly during election periods when citizens' ability to access a plurality of political opinions is essential. We call upon the Azerbaijani authorities to comply with Azerbaijan's international obligations to freedom of expression by taking immediate steps to improve the freedom of expression situation in the country, including:

• Immediately and unconditionally releasing Eynulla Fatullayev, Adnan Hajizade, and Emin Milli from prison and ceasing the arrest of persons for expressing critical opinions
• Ceasing practices of intimidation and harassment of opposition party candidates and journalists affiliated with independent and opposition media outlets
• Promptly and effectively investigating all reports of official interference with journalists' coverage of election proceedings and prosecuting those responsible
• Immediately ceasing blocking of websites critical of the government
• Ensuring media pluralism and encouraging a diversity of sources of information, including by establishing an independent broadcasting regulatory body and removing the ban prohibiting foreign radio stations from broadcasting on national frequencies
• Fully complying with the recommendations of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions in its forthcoming Election Observation Mission Final Report to ensure that future elections meet international standards for fair and free elections and freedom of expression.

For a more detailed description of the freedom of expression situation in the pre-elections period, please click here to download the joint report, "Free Expression under Attack: Azerbaijan's Deteriorating Media Environment":
free_expression_under_attack.pdf (1033 KB)

ARTICLE 19
Freedom House
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
Reporters Without Borders
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Non-IFEX signing organisations:

Human Rights House Foundation
Media Diversity Institute
Norwegian Helsinki Committee

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