April 28, 2000
His Excellency Heidar Aliyev
President of Azerbaijan
19 Istiglaliyat Street
VIA FAX: 011-9412-920-625
The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply disturbed by your government’s recent crackdown on the Baku-based magazine Monitor Weekly and the continued harassment of its editor in chief, Elmar Huseynov.
On April 23, tax inspectors closed down the printing company where the magazine is produced. The next day, following protests from company officials and others, the same authorities acknowledged that the closure had been illegal. The printer was subsequently allowed to resume operations, on condition that it cease printing Monitor Weekly. Fearing state reprisals, all Baku’s printers are currently refusing to produce the magazine, according to Huseynov.
Huseynov formerly ran the magazine Monitor, which authorities banned in February 1998. Both publications drew unfavorable attention from state officials because of their pointed criticisms of Your Excellency’s regime. Nor is Huseynov’s persecution an isolated case. CPJ has repeatedly voiced its concern about the intimidation of journalists who write about the presidential family or Your Excellency’s political and business associates.
Government authorities have harassed Huseynov extensively over the past several years. In February 1998, officials confiscated copies of Monitor from state and private newsstands across Baku, after Huseynov was charged with defaming the Azeri population in an article entitled “The Azerbaijani Nation in the 21st Century.”
Two years later, when Huseynov launched Monitor Weekly, Justice Ministry officials forced him to publish a disclaimer (which the officials dictated) in which he apologized for allegedly misleading statements contained in the Monitor article. Under threat of closure, Huseynov published the disclaimer word for word, but then added an editorial note stating that he disagreed with the disclaimer in its entirety and protesting the government’s violation of his constitutional rights.
Another Huseynov venture, the weekly newspaper Bakinsky Bulevar, has been targeted for alleged licensing irregularities. Officials have demanded that Huseynov pay a fine of 100 million manats (US$23,000) for publishing without a license from August 1998 to January 1999. Huseynov argues that he is innocent of any violation, since the regulations and procedures for filing a license were only issued in December 1998. The editor claims that he submitted an application at that time, and was granted a license in February 1999.
CPJ believes that Azerbaijani officials are using licensing laws and other legal tools at their disposal in an effort to silence Huseynov. As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ condemns the ongoing harassment of Huseynov and Monitor Weekly.
While CPJ welcomed Your Excellency’s abolition of censorship in 1998 as a step toward liberating the media in Azerbaijan, we were dismayed by certain provisions in the new media law that Parliament adopted in December 1999. We believe these latest attacks demonstrate a failure to recognize international press freedom norms, further tarnishing your country’s image at a time when Azerbaijan is applying for admittance into the Council of Europe.
We urge you to take all legal measures to ensure that charges against Monitor Weekly and its editor Elmar Huseynov are dropped, and to encourage a climate in which all journalists in Azerbaijan may practice their profession without fear of reprisal.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.
Ann K. Cooper