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Azerbaijani police attack media at opposition rally

(IRFS/IFEX) - 20 November 2012 - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) strongly condemns the deliberate and calculated attack on the media during November 17 opposition rally in downtown Baku and calls on the government of Azerbaijan to take action against police officers who assaulted four journalists in the presence of witnesses.

IRFS is deeply troubled by the fact that more than 20 journalists [were] denied access to some demonstration sites. The authorities ordered riot police to install barricades and not to let media through. "Police obstruction of journalists covering demonstrations is unacceptable. It is creating an intimidatory atmosphere that means people are less likely to go out and cover protests," says IRFS Chair Emin Huseynov.

Yeni Musavat newspaper correspondent Farahim Ilgaroglu, Turan Information Agency reporter Etimad Budagov, Media Forum correspondent Amid Suleymanov and IRFS correspondent Rasim Aliyev were subject to physical pressure by police employees, while covering the protest. The police violently kicked and punched the four journalists despite the fact that they were wearing press jackets and large press badges. The assaults were captured in photographs and on video.

Ironically, this vicious and brazen attack happened just a week after the workshop on the safety of reporters, which was held by the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in cooperation with the Press Council of Azerbaijan and the OSCE Office in Baku.

The training took place on the invitation and with the financial support of the Government of Azerbaijan. The event urged journalists to wear press jackets to guarantee their safety during riots.

"We hoped that the riot police pressure on media during protests would relax after the training. On the contrary, police pressure on the media has doubled," says [the] IRFS Chair.

The four journalists are the latest victims in a string of police brutality incidents at a series of peaceful protests that having been organized by the opposition since last spring.

IRFS demands that the police conduct disciplinary investigations and punish those responsible. IRFS calls on the minister of the interior and the chief of national police to take the necessary measures to prevent similar events in the future. IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to put in place laws to ensure the safety of journalists.

IRFS reminds that threats and attacks are never investigated and culprits [are] hardly ever brought to book.

IRFS condemns the use of violence to restrict freedom of expression and calls for the authorities to end this vicious cycle by immediately and impartially investigating all attacks against journalists and bringing those responsible to justice.

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