February 17, 2000
His Excellency Heidar Aliyev
President of Azerbaijan
19 Istiglaliyat Street
Baku, Azerbaijan 370066
VIA FAX: 011-9412-920-625
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is greatly disturbed by your government’s sustained and often violent harassment of the opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat and the independent station Sara Radio/TV.
On February 7, at approximately 4 p.m., some 150 people attacked the editorial offices of Yeni Musavat in Baku, blockading the entrance to the building and breaking office windows. The demonstration was thought to be related to a series of articles published in Yeni Musavat that criticized corruption in the Nakhichevan region.
A number of local journalists were attacked by the crowd and local police while attempting to cover the demonstration. The mob seized the camera of Elkhan Kemirov, a photographer with the newspaper Azadliq. Sharq newspaper reporter Serkerde Serkhanoglu, Azadliq reporter Leman Alieshrefqizi and Mustafa Hajibeyli of the newspaper 525-ci Qezet were assaulted and beaten, while Tural Musseyib of Space TV and Eldeniz Veli of ANS TV both had their cameras smashed.
Earlier that day, police officers arrested the author of the Yeni Musavat corruption series, Elbeyi Hassanli, and detained him at the Sabayel District police station for questioning. After leaving the station he was abducted by a group of unknown men and taken to the Nakhichevan region.
Baku police have denied any involvement in Hassanli’s abduction. The journalist was eventually released on February 9, following protests from local journalists and allegations that your government knew about the raid in advance but did nothing to stop it.
On February 8, equipment worth approximately US$120,000, including television transmitters, was taken from the premises of Sara Radio/TV. Sara representatives told CPJ that to the best of their knowledge, the confiscation was ordered by Husein Huseynov, head of Azerbaijan’s Motor Transport Agency and director of the newly approved, state-supported LTV station.
The equipment was allegedly seized in compensation for a fine of 250 million manats (US$58,000) levied against the station in November 1999, after it was found guilty of insulting Huseynov’s “honor and dignity” during a September 1999 broadcast that accused him of corruption. Even though the people who raided the station provided no official documents to justify the seizure, local police have refused to take up the case.
This outrageous action was the latest in a series of recent government attempts to silence Sara Radio/TV. On October 29, CPJ sent Your Excellency a letter protesting your government’s October 9 attempt to shut down the station. Police forced employees to leave the building and then sealed the facility, following an October 8 broadcast during which opposition leader Nizami Suleymanov called on the public to join demonstrations demanding freedom for the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Your government has claimed that Sara Radio/TV is owned by foreigners, in violation of Article 7 of the mass media law. But according to the station’s Turkish director, Rauf Rasul, the station is legally registered to Azeri representatives of the Turkish network ICBC Television. Contrary to official claims, Rasul himself is not the owner of Sara Radio/TV.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists devoted to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ strongly protests these continued attacks on independent and opposition media in Azerbaijan. We urge you to ensure that charges are filed against all assailants involved in the raid on Yeni Musavat, and that officials reinstate Sara TV’s broadcast license and return all equipment confiscated from the station.
We also condemn the recent passage of a new and even more draconian media bill, which you signed into law on February 8, despite CPJ’s December 15 protest. We ask that you do everything in your power to ensure that all journalists in Azerbaijan may work without government interference.
Ann K. Cooper