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Journalists assaulted, rights defenders harassed by police while covering opposition protests

(IRFS/IFEX) - 2 April 2011 - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) strongly condemns the police interference in the professional work of journalists during the opposition protests of 2 April 2011, labelling the actions as a restriction of freedom of the press. IRFS also condemns the detention of human rights defender Sabuhi Gafarov in a temporary prison for over 2 hours.

Dozens of journalists who were wearing waistcoats labelled "PRESS", including Mehman Karimov, were violently forced out of the area under the instruction of Yashar Aliyev, Deputy Head of the Baku City Chief Police Office. Furthermore, a police officer grabbed IRFS employee Rasim Aliyev by the neck and forced him to lie on the ground. The IRFS employee had been filming the police as they were forcing the arrested protesters onto a bus and beating them.

Turan News Agency employee Etmad Budagov and "Yeni Musavat" reporter Elshan Balakhanli were also harassed by the police and undercover agents while they were taking photographs. Human Rights Club co-founder Sabuhi Gafarov was detained and taken to a temporary detention prison in Khatai district while he was observing the developments in front of the Mirza Fatali Akhundov National Library. Gafarov was set free upon the intervention of rights defenders.

IRFS believes that this police attitude towards journalists and human rights defenders once again proves the authorities are not tolerant of freedom of expression and rights defenders. Such actions not only violate the national legislation of the Azerbaijani Republic, but also contradict Azerbaijan's obligations to international organizations.

IRFS urges the Azerbaijani authorities to take practical measures to punish those who committed illegal actions against the journalists and rights defenders. IRFS calls on the international community to apply pressure on Azerbaijan to ensure it abides by its undertaken obligations.

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