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Azeri police beat, detain journalists covering post-election opposition rally

On 12 October, protesters in Baku called for President Ilham Aliyev to step down.
On 12 October, protesters in Baku called for President Ilham Aliyev to step down.

AP Photo / Aziz Karimov

The recent wave of brutal attacks on journalists is a worrying sign of a fresh crackdown on critics and must be thoroughly and impartially investigated by the authorities, Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety says. The violence comes amid political tensions, as the opposition boycotts the third term presidency of Ilham Aliyev, claiming electoral fraud.

Acting as reporters to document the opposition rally against what they say was a stolen election, at least 7 journalists and citizen reporters became targets on 12 October 2013 – beaten, bloodied, harassed and detained by police.

IRFS blames the Azerbaijani ruling regime for this violence, accusing it of scheming to suppress and stifle news coverage.

"These attacks seem to have been acts of revenge against the media for the objective and thus unwelcome coverage of the presidential election," IRFS CEO and chairman Emin Huseynov said.

"The authorities have failed to act against abuses by security and intelligence agencies, and instead have set a stage for a fresh police crackdown on media by sanctioning abuses committed by security forces or their proxies", Huseynov said.

At least three independent media outlets reported that members of their staff had been physically attacked by police during a sanctioned rally on 12 October. In five cases, journalists were seized and whisked away, and their equipment was seized and damaged.

A HAFTA İCHİ newspaper correspondent, Tural Gurbanly, and journalist Emil Nihil were subjected to pressure. Nihil was found bloodied and transported to a hospital after being severely beaten by police.

Riot police officers twisted AZAD XEBER reporter Parvin Zeynally's arms and took him towards a bus waiting nearby, and also took his camera. The policemen carried him away for 300 meters pressing his head down and forced him into the bus. The journalist fainted on the bus due to a lack of oxygen. After providing first aid to the journalist, the police took him to Yasamal District Police Department and seized his mobile phone and camera. Though the journalist was released after being questioned, his camera was not returned.

Police also deliberately broke a professional video camera worth $7,000, which Obyektiv TV correspondent Rasim Aliyev used to document police brutality on peaceful protesters.

British native Kevin Paul McCarey, who was also filming the protest, was beaten up by the police.

IRFS claims that such accounts have been all too commonplace around Azerbaijan. In its reports, the group has documented at least hundreds of violent attacks against journalists and media workers in the recent years, accusing the authorities of perpetrating attacks on reporters.

IRFS states that brutal beating of citizens by the police and physical pressure put on journalists at a peaceful demonstration – which follows the OSCE observation mission's calling Azerbaijan's October 9 presidential election non-compliant with international standards and the EU's, the US State Department's and the British government's backing the OSCE's position – will lead to weakening of the country's international image.

IRFS demands the Azerbaijani authorities to fully investigate all the cases of harassment and beating of journalists since the beginning of 2013, to bring the responsible parties to justice and take all the necessary measures to ensure the safety of journalists.

IRFS believes that hindering the work of journalists covering a social or political event through using force is a flagrant violation of domestic and international law. Interfering with the activities of the media also constitutes infringement of the right to obtain information, guaranteed under article 50 of the Azerbaijani Constitution (freedom of information) and article 10 of the European Convention (freedom of expression).

Interference with the professional work of journalists also creates criminal liability under article 163 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code.

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to punish the police officers who have abused their power and used force against journalists, and to take the necessary measures to prevent similar events in the future.

IRFS also calls on the Council of Europe and OSCE to take necessary steps so that Azerbaijani authorities comply with the country's freedom of expression obligations.

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