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Continued violence against journalists symptomatic of ongoing repression in the region, says ARTICLE 19

South Caucasus: Continued Violence Against Journalists Symptomatic of Ongoing Repression in the Region

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 15 May 2009 - ARTICLE 19 is becoming increasingly concerned that acts of violence against journalists in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are on the rise. Previous attacks have seen a lack of independent and prompt investigation, creating a climate of impunity for the perpetrators and fear amongst journalists working in these countries.

In recent weeks Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have seen an increasing number of physical attacks on journalists and media workers, especially those covering politically sensitive issues such as opposition rallies in Georgia and the recent call for the cancellation of the "Flower Holiday" in Azerbaijan.

In Armenia, the most recent assault took place on 6 May, when Nver Mnatsakanian, a prominent television anchor and host at Shant TV, was attacked and beaten by unknown assailants outside his home in Yerevan.

ARTICLE 19 specifically calls on the Armenian authorities to condemn any attacks on journalists and to undertake to end all attacks. In order to prevent other attacks, ARTICLE 19 also urges the government to fully investigate all violent incidents, thereby sending a clear message that such abuses will not be tolerated.

In Azerbaijan, police used physical force against Durna Safarli, a Radio Liberty correspondent; Elchin Hasanov, from Yukselish Namina; and Afgan Mukhtarli and Layla Ilgar from Yeni Musavat newspaper on 10 May 2009 while they were covering events surrounding the "Flower Holiday".

The "Flower Holiday" is an annual celebration of the birthday of former President Geydar Aliyev on 10 May. This year students called for it to be cancelled, to commemorate 13 people killed at the State Oil Academy in Baku on 30 April 2009. Journalists attempting to investigate these killings were also prevented from accessing information by authorities.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Azerbaijan government to set up an independent investigation into the police violence surrounding this year's "Flower Holiday" and promptly investigate police attacks on journalists and peaceful protesters. Members of the public were beaten and approximately 50 demonstrators were detained for a number of hours on this day, simply for exercising their right to free expression.

ARTICLE 19 also calls for a complete disclosure of the findings of the investigation into the killing of 13 people at the State Oil Academy in Baku on 30 April 2009. The Azerbaijani public has the right to know what happened and who was responsible for this unprecedented massacre.

In Georgia, journalists covering political opposition activities have reportedly been subject to police ill-treatment. These included, for example, Nino Komakhidze and Ani Khavtasi from The Versia newspaper who were covering an opposition movement protest on 7 April. They were allegedly also part of another group of journalists who were assaulted on 6 May, when violence erupted outside a Tbilisi police station.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Georgian government to conduct a prompt and independent investigation into the alleged police attacks. We also call on the Georgian authorities not to repeat the excessive use of force used to quell demonstrators in November 2007, including the beating of journalists by police.

ARTICLE 19 notes that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which both guarantee the fundamental right to freedom of expression, including the protection of journalists.

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