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Azerbaijan

Key Developments

» Critical voices silenced in run-up to presidential elections.

» Restrictive laws target free expression online.

As Azerbaijan prepared to assume the 2014 chairmanship of the Council of Europe—the largest European intergovernmental human rights and democracy organization—the authoritarian regime of President Ilham Aliyev shamelessly trampled on press freedom at home. The authorities continued to stifle critical voices, target free expression on the Web, and sentence reporters to lengthy prison terms. A local journalist was barred from leaving the country to pick up his journalism prize in Norway, while dozens of foreign media personnel were declared persona non grata in Azerbaijan. The harassment, including by the government-affiliated press, of investigative journalist Khadija Ismailova went unpunished. Aliyev extended criminal defamation laws to the Internet and tightened funding restrictions for domestic NGOs, including press freedom organizations, despite a domestic and international outcry. In June, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso offered Aliyev public support instead of holding the leader responsible for human rights and press freedom violations in his country. In October, the authoritarian leader was re-elected to his third term after the Central Elections Commission denied registration to opposition candidate Rustam Ibragimbekov.



  • 8

    Imprisoned on December 1
  • 67

    Media workers barred
  • 1

    Satellite signal jammed
  • 2

    Articles in criminal code
 

Azerbaijan continues to censor critical journalists and editors by fabricating charges against them and sentencing them to lengthy jail terms. According to CPJ's annual prison census, conducted on December 1, 2013, at least eight journalists were being held in retaliation for their reporting.


Lengthy prison terms:

Avaz Zeynally

Editor of the independent daily Khural, was given a nine-year jail term in March on fabricated extortion charges.

Araz Guliyev

Editor of the religious news website Xeber44, was given an eight-year jail term in April for inciting ethnic and religious hatred with his coverage of Muslim activities. Guliyev was initially arrested on hooliganism charges.

Tofiq Yaqublu

A columnist for the leading opposition daily Yeni Musavat, spent 11 months in pretrial detention after being charged with organizing mass disorder.

Hilal Mamedov

Editor of the minority newspaper Talyshi Sado (Voice of the Talysh), was given a five-year jail term in September on charges of treason, incitement to hatred, and illegal sale of drugs. He was first arrested in June 2012.
 

After a June travel ban on photojournalist Mehman Huseynov, which prevented him from accepting an international journalism award in Norway, Azerbaijan's foreign ministry issued a list of foreign nationals—among them 67 journalists and media workers—who are barred from entering the country. News accounts reported that the individuals had previously visited Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed region over which Azerbaijan fought a deadly war with neighboring Armenia in the 1990s.

By country, the journalists and media workers on the list:

Russia: 21

Germany: 9

Ukraine: 7

Italy: 5

Georgia: 4

United States: 4

United Kingdom: 4

Austria: 2

Bulgaria: 2

Hungary: 1

Romania: 1

Turkey: 1

Cyprus: 1

Netherlands: 1

Belgium: 1

Northern Ireland: 1

Japan: 1

Argentina: 1

Switzerland: 1

 

In late April, Radio Azadlyg, the Azerbaijani service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reported that the authorities had jammed their programming. RFE/RL said that its satellite signals had been interrupted "with jittery images, distorted sound, and static." Authorities have a history of interfering with RFE/RL broadcasts around the region.


Breakdown of RFE/RL broadcast bans across the region:

December 2005

Uzbek authorities denied accreditation to RFE/RL correspondents in the country, forcing the broadcaster to shut down the bureau, which remains closed.

October 2008

Authorities in Kyrgyzstan stopped re-broadcasting RFE/RL programming on national radio and television channels, citing technical issues.

 

Articles 147 and 148 of Azerbaijan's criminal code were amended in May by Parliament to extend to the Internet punishment for slander and insult. President Aliyev signed the law in early June, Reuters reported.


Breakdown of the new law:

Slander

Those convicted of slander could be sentenced to a fine of up to 500 Azeri manat (US$637); corrective labor of up to one year; or jail time of up to three years, according to the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel.

Insult

Those convicted of insult charges face a fine of up to 1,000 Azeri manat (US$1275), one year of corrective labor, or imprisonment of up to six months, Kavkazsky Uzel said.



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