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Police attack Azeri journalists at public protest

(IRFS/IFEX) - 14 January 2013 - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) strongly condemns the deliberate and calculated attack on the media and rights defenders during a 12 January public protest over the deaths of young conscripts in the Azerbaijani army, and calls on the government to take action against police officers who assaulted rights defenders and journalists in the presence of witnesses.

They used violence against up to ten journalists who were clearly identifiable because of their cameras and press jackets. IRFS Chairman, Emin Huseynov, was among those injured during the deliberate charge by riot police. A police officer pushed and threw Huseynov to the ground although he was wearing a press jacket. Huseynov, who suffered a minor head injury, is now seeking medical treatment.

Azerbaijani police have habitually obstructed the rights of media and the duty of journalists to go about their business. IRFS condemns police brutality on reporters and human rights defenders and calls on the authorities to immediately identify those persons within their ranks who were responsible.

"We encourage authorities, beginning with President Aliyev, to express revulsion and anger at the violent and destructive behavior of police in their handling of journalists and hindering objective coverage of the protest, and to take whatever action they can to prevent such brutality," said the IRFS Chairman.

IRFS considers the safety of journalists to be a burning issue ahead of the 2013 presidential elections. Ironically, just two months ago - at a workshop on the safety of reporters organized by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) - high-ranking government officials assured that journalists wearing illuminated press jackets would not encounter police violence. Contrary to their commitment, Azerbaijani police have demonstrated increased violence against journalists in the past two months through, for example, the beating of Farahim Ilgaroglu, a newspaper correspondent for Yeni Musavat.

IRFS declares that interference with the professional activities of journalists is a violation of the right to access information, which is protected under Article 50 of the Azerbaijani Constitution (Freedom of Information) and Article 10 of the European Convention (Freedom of Expression).

Not only that, but impeding the professional activities of a journalist creates a liability under Article 163 of the constitution.

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 Azerbaijani government to put in place laws to ensure the safety of journalists.

IRFS stresses 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.

IRFS also calls upon international organizations, especially the OSCE, to stay focused on attacks against journalists while performing professional duties and demand the Azerbaijani government to find and punish those who are responsible for these attacks.

In a related press release published on 14 January, IRFS states that Husynov intends to file a complaint to the Ministry of the Interior, with the request of launching a criminal case against police officials who deliberately attacked him.

"This is not the first time a police officer has told me to stop taking pictures," said Huseynov. "I explained that I was entitled to do my job and assumed I would be allowed to continue. Instead I found myself on the ground with a bad pain in my head and neck."

Media Rights Institute director Rashid Hajili assessed the case as a serious legal violation. "This action constitutes both damage to health and the humiliation of honor and dignity, which allows you to demand compensation for both material and psychological damages."

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