Azerbaijan: Government cracks down on independent media before elections

May 22, 2000

His Excellency Heidar Aliyev
President of Azerbaijan
19 Istiglaliyat Street
Baku, Azerbaijan

VIA FAX: 011-9412-920-625

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed by the recent closure of the Baku-based magazine Monitor Weekly and by your continued refusal to review the legality of the Interior Ministry’s October 1999 takeover of the independent station Sara Radio/TV.

CPJ believes Azerbaijani officials are using licensing laws and trumped-up tax charges in an attempt to silence all independent media in the country before the November parliamentary elections.

On May 8, tax inspectors sealed off the offices of Monitor Weekly and suspended its publication after accusing the magazine of failing to present a financial report for the first quarter of 2000. But according to the editor-in-chief, Elmar Huseynov, the tax authorities had not given the magazine sufficient time to submit the requested materials.

CPJ fears that the authorities are using this case as a pretext to silence Huseynov’s newspaper in response to his pointed criticisms of Your Excellency’s regime. This is by no means the first time that Huseynov has faced official harassment. In April, tax inspectors threatened to suspend the activities of any printing house in Baku that published Monitor Weekly. And in February 1998, officials banned Huseynov’s previous publication, the magazine Monitor.

CPJ is also gravely troubled by your refusal to repeal the unlawful closure of Sara Radio/TV. The station was officially registered with the Ministry of Justice in January, 1994. But on October 8, 1999, Interior Ministry officials closed down the station, on the grounds that it was owned by foreigners, in violation of the law. According to the station’s Turkish director, Rauf Rasul, Sara TV/Radio is legally registered to Azerbaijani representatives of the Turkish network ICBC Television. The station also argues that Article 7 of the Azerbaijani law on mass media bans foreign ownership of media outlets by physical persons only, but does not restrict ownership by foreign legal entities registered within the country.

According to CPJ’s sources, Your Excellency has voiced some doubt over the legality of the closure. But despite numerous appeals from Sara TV/Radio, the government has so far taken no action to remedy this deplorable situation.

Recently, Your Excellency promised the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe that the November elections would be open and democratic. While we are encouraged by this pledge, we respectfully remind you that open elections require access to varied and opposing views. We urge you to pursue all legal avenues to reinstate both Monitor Weekly and Sara-TV/Radio, and to ensure that 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
Executive Director