New York, April 5, 2011--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a series of attacks in capital Baku against reporters for the pro-opposition daily Azadlyg (Freedom), and calls on Azerbaijani authorities to immediately investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.
At around 9 p.m. on Monday, two unidentified assailants beat Azadlyg reporter Ramin Deko when he was returning home from his newsroom, local and international press reported. According to the independent Caucasus news website Kavkazsky Uzel, the assailants attacked Deko in a public garden near Azerbaijan's Academy of Sciences. One of the assailants said, "Perhaps you didn't get any smarter," the journalist told Kavkazsky Uzel, referring to a warning he was given the previous day.
On Sunday, three unidentified men shoved Deko into a Lada sedan after accosting him at a bus stop in Baku at around 10 a.m., the Azeri service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Radio Azadlyg) reported. The abductors took his mobile phone and drove Deko to the Mashtaga suburb of Baku, where they told him "to be smart and stop criticizing authorities" and suggested that he should join a state-funded publication instead of reporting for Azadlyg, RFE/RL reported.
According to Kavkazsky Uzel, Deko did not report the incidents to police because he said he does not believe his attackers would be brought to justice. Deko is the second Azadlyg reporter targeted for his journalism in the last 10 days.
"These attacks appear to be part of a concerted effort to intimidate Azadlyg from independent reporting," CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. "This is a matter for investigation at the highest levels of law enforcement. Some journalists believe local police will not thoroughly pursue these cases."
On March 26, six masked men abducted Azadlyg reporter Seimur Khaziyev in a Baku suburb. The attackers shoved Khaziyev into a Mercedes minivan, took his cellphones, put a bag over his head, and drove to an unknown location and beat him. Two hours later, Khaziyev was put him back into the minivan and dropped off at a roadside outside Baku, Kavkazsky Uzel said.
Azadlyg staffers have long been at odds with the Azerbaijani government, CPJ research shows. Journalists have been physically attacked, intimidated, and imprisoned in retaliation for their work. In 2006, Azadlyg journalist Sakit Zakhidov was sentenced to three years in jail on a fabricated drug charge, and two other reporters with the daily, Nijat Huseynov and Fikret Huseinli, were assaulted in Baku. In 2008, authorities convicted Azadlyg Editor Genimet Zakhidov on trumped-up hooliganism charges, and sentenced him to four years in jail. The same year, reporter Agil Khalil was stabbed and assaulted in Baku, and barred from leaving Azerbaijan.