New York, April 18, 2012--Azerbaijani authorities must promptly investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of today's brutal assault in Baku on five independent reporters, including award-winning journalist Idrak Abbasov, who is now hospitalized, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
Around 11 local time this morning, security officers with the state oil company, SOCAR, attacked and beat five journalists who were covering demolition of houses in the Sulutepe suburb of Baku, Emin Huseynov, director of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), told CPJ. The energy company has been taking down the buildings, which it claims were built illegally on its land, Huseynov said.
Abbasov, a journalist with IRFS and the Baku-based independent newspaper Zerkalo, was knocked unconscious, hospitalized, and diagnosed with a concussion and injuries to his right eye and nose. "I feel like a soccer ball after the game, that's how they beat me. I have pain all over my body," Abbasov told CPJ from a hospital bed.
According to Abbasov, two dozen SOCAR security guards attacked him and Gyunai Musayeva, a journalist with the opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat, after the two started filming the demolition. Both reporters wore vests identifying them as "Press." The guards, Abbasov told CPJ, knocked him to the ground and started viciously beating him. Musayeva suffered bruises on her head, which did not require hospital admission; the assailants deleted both reporters' recordings and damaged their equipment, Huseynov told CPJ after he spoke to the journalists.
SOCAR hasn't publicly responded to the allegations. The company's press office did not immediately return a phone call from CPJ.
Police, who were present at the scene, did not interfere in the attack on Abbasov, his brother told the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel.
Three other reporters -- Esmir Dzhavadova with the Azeri service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Galib Hasanov with the independent online broadcaster Obyektiv-TV, and Elnur Mammedov of IRFS -- arrived at the demolition site after Abbasov, and were also beaten and had their car damaged by SOCAR employees, Huseynov told CPJ.
"We are shocked by this vicious attack on Idrak Abbasov and his colleagues, who were covering a news event the state oil company apparently wanted to keep hidden from the public," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "If Azerbaijani authorities genuinely want to welcome the international press for the Eurovision competition next month, they can start by prosecuting those behind these assaults and sending a clear message they will not tolerate anti-press brutality."
Abbasov's brother, Adalyat Abbasov, who was on the scene, tried to stop the journalists' beating but was assaulted himself, and is also hospitalized with a broken rib, Huseynov said. Idrak Abbasov is well known for his coverage of human rights violations and official wrongdoings. He and his family have suffered harassment and physical attacks in retaliation for his work, CPJ research shows.
The attack on the reporters took place weeks before Baku is to host the Eurovision international song contest in May. Ahead of the contest, President Ilham Aliyev has criticized negative coverage of Azerbaijan's human rights record in the international media and said his country is democratic and has freedom of speech, regional press reported.