Azerbaijan: Government blocks broadcast of interview with Chechen rebel leader

August 1, 2000

His Excellency Heidar Aliyev
President of Azerbaijan
19 Istiglaliyat Street
Baku, Azerbaijan 370066
VIA FAX: 011-9412-920-625

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is greatly disturbed by the pressure your government has exerted on the independent television station ANS to block it from airing an interview with a Chechen rebel leader.

On July 14, electricity to the television station was cut off 15 minutes into the broadcast of an interview with Chechen rebel commander Shamil Basayev, according to CPJ’s local sources and international news reports. Officials responsible for power supply claimed that the interruption was due to an accident involving electricity lines.

But on July 16, ANS TV received an official notification, signed by Deputy Prosecutor-General Ramiz Rzayev, stating that the tape of the interview had been illegally imported from Russia to Azerbaijan and that the interview itself was illegal because it allegedly contained terrorist propaganda, in violation of Azerbaijani law and international conventions ratified by Azerbaijan.

The letter, a copy of which was faxed to CPJ, also stated that if ANS TV continued to broadcast such programs, the Procurator-General’s Office would “take more serious measures” against the station.

On July 18, National Security Minister Namik Abasov phoned the editor in chief of ANS TV and threatened to shut down the station if he attempted to broadcast the Basayev interview, ANS owner Vakhid Mustafayev told CPJ.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists devoted to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ strongly protests this flagrant campaign of censorship. We urge Your Excellency to ensure that state officials cease attempting to influence ANS TV’s programming decisions, and to create an environment in which all independent journalists in Azerbaijan may do their jobs without hindrance from the government.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We await your reply.

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director