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Norwegian journalists held and threatened at Baku airport

(Norwegian PEN/IFEX) - Oslo, 29th May 2012 - A crew of journalists from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) was held at Baku airport late on May 25th and was threatened and harassed. The group was headed by Iranian-Norwegian reporter Amir Asgharnejad, who had posed as an Iranian reporter to interview Azerbaijanis in Baku during the Eurovision Song Contest, posing «stupid» questions and translating the answers into even more «stupid» Norwegian. Azeri media found out about the project and called it an insult to their country.

The four freelancers were making a comedy series for NRK's Program 3 online and NRK Entertainment. The four, and Asgharnejad in particular, were treated brutally by the police when they were stopped after the security control at the Baku airport late last Saturday, said NRK Program Director Per Arne Kalbakk. "Our crew and our reporter were held back and given completely unacceptable treatment," he added. NRK has contacted Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to urge them to send protest letters to the Azerbaijani authorities.

At the airport, Asgharnejad was held in a small room with seven police officers, where he was forced to strip down to his underwear. They then forced him to stand on and to spit on the Iranian flag. When the police were through with him, they told him not to speak about the incident to anyone. "If you mention this to anyone, we will come to your home in Norway and we will kill you," was the message he was left with when boarding the plane home.

Both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the NRK have reacted to the incident. NRK Director of Entertainment Charlo Halvorsen told reporters, "We do not know if this was a planned action or just a bunch of policemen who decided to act as hooligans, but for Amir this was a very unpleasant experience. The team was accredited for the European Song Contest (ESC) like any other Norwegian journalist. The EBU received guarantees from Azerbaijani authorities that all journalists would be treated decently and would be allowed to work freely. Obviously there was a limit at comedy pieces from Azerbaijan, even though both Norway and Iran were made fun of in these make-believe reports from the ESC-circus."

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