PRESIDENT HEIDAR ALIYEV AND OTHER AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS repeatedly proclaimed their support for freedoms of association and expression, but the November parliamentary elections highlighted the regime’s authoritarianism. The government banned opposition rallies, harassed opposition leaders, and temporarily suspended several opposition parties from the contest. International observers found multiple problems with the election itself, which was nevertheless followed by conditional admission to the 43-nation Council of Europe, which includes most Eastern and Western European states.
Throughout the year, journalists were detained, newspapers were fined, censored, and shut down, and independent broadcasters were denied registration. CPJ program consultant Emma Gray visited Azerbaijan in the summer and witnessed this harassment, but also found a robust independent press and considerable solidarity among local journalists, particularly in response to the August arrest of Rauf Arifoglu, an opposition candidate for Parliament and editor of the opposition daily Yeni Musavat.
After Arifoglu ran an article about a recent hijacking in his paper, he was himself charged with attempted hijacking, terrorism, and illegal possession of arms. Three weeks later, he was additionally charged with calling for a coup d’état, based on so-called linguistic analysis of articles in Yeni Musavat. His trial was still pending at press time; if convicted on all counts, the journalist could face up to 25 years in prison.
On August 24, Azerbaijan’s main independent media outlets launched a three-day strike to protest Arifoglu’s arrest and other recent attacks on press freedom. As the case was developing, CPJ sent a protest letter to President Aliyev and issued several news alerts. On October 5, Arifoglu was released after more than six weeks in jail, although he was required to submit a written guarantee that he would not flee the city before trial.
As one of the most popular opposition newspapers, Yeni Musavat was subject to repeated harassment during the year. Police detained two of its journalists for short periods: Elbey Hassanli in February and Etibar Jebrayiloglu in August. Also in February, a mob of some 150 people attacked the paper’s editorial offices, blocking the entrance and breaking several windows. Local journalists alleged that the government knew about the planned attack in advance but did nothing to prevent it. Several journalists from other newspapers who came to cover the attack were beaten by the mob. The paper’s coverage of official corruption reportedly provoked the incident.
As in past years, large fines resulting from libel suits inhibited the independent press. Yeni Musavat, Uch Noqte, and dozens of other newspapers were found guilty of defamation and penalized. Uch Noqte was also shut down temporarily, under a law imposing mandatory closure on media outlets that lose three lawsuits, although this condition had not in fact been met. In November, after internation press freedom groups drew attention to the case, the Court of Appeals declared Uch Noqte‘s closure illegal and void, influenced, perhaps, by the attention paid to the case by international press freedom organizations.
The government did manage to close at least one magazine that had criticized the Aliyev regime. After a long campaign of harassment that included the intimidation of its printer, tax raids, and seizure of assets, the independent Monitor Weekly had its license revoked by a local court that had earlier suspended the magazine.
Television stations also faced government pressure last year. The independent Sara Radio/TV, which had been shut down in 1999, was effectively liquidated in February, when officials seized television transmitters and other equipment worth approximately US$120,000. In July, the government attempted to censor the private television station ANS-reportedly under pressure from Moscow-after ANS aired an interview with a Chechen rebel leader. Another independent television company, ABA TV, was suspended for two weeks in October because it had offered airtime to opposition politicians and had refused to cooperate with a high-ranking official who offered his patronage in exchange for help launching a new television station.
Seven regional television stations were still unable to obtain broadcast licenses, some after waiting for as long as three years, as officials stalled their applications under various pretexts. Six of these stations remained on the air, although they were subject to the whim of local officials. In the town of Guba, for example, provincial authorities forced two stations to rebroadcast official state news. And a seventh station remained closed after a full year because its license application was still pending.
The unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, formerly an autonomous region within Soviet Azerbaijan, remained under the control of ethnic Armenian separatists and cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan. After the attempted assassination in March of the region’s self-declared president, Arkady Ghukasian, local journalist Vahram Aghajanian was arrested for slander, prompting protests from colleagues in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. CPJ and other press freedom groups protested to the Karabakh authorities, and local journalists said Aghajanian was subsequently released because of this pressure. But at year’s end, his newspaper, Tasnerord Nahang, had not appeared since April.
Leman Alieshrefqizi, Azadliq
Sekerde Serkhanoglu, Sharq
Elkhan Kemirov, Azadliq
Tural Musseyib, Space TV
Mustafa Hajibeyli, 525-ci Qezet
Elbey Hassanli, Yeni Musavat
Eldeniz Veli, ANS TV
A number of journalists were attacked following mob aggression against the offices of the opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat.
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 evidently sparked by a Yeni Musavat series about official corruption in the Nakhichevan region. Local journalists alleged that the government knew about the demonstration in advance but did nothing to stop it.
The mob seized the camera of Azadliq photographer Kemirov.Sharq reporter Serkhanoglu, Azadliq reporter Alieshrefqizi, and Hajibeyli of the newspaper 525-ci Qezet were assaulted and beaten, while Musseyib of Space TV and Veli of ANS TV both had their cameras smashed.
Earlier that day, police officers arrested Hassanli, author of the Yeni Musavat corruption series, and detained him for questioning at the Sabayel District police station. After leaving the station he was abducted by a group of unknown men and taken to the Nakhichevan region.
Baku police denied any involvement in Hassanli’s abduction. The journalist was eventually released on February 9, following protests from local journalists.
CPJ protested the abduction and the attack on Yeni Musavat in a March 10 letter to President Heidar Aliyev.
Azerbaijan officials effectively liquidated Sara Radio/TV, an independent broadcaster in Baku, when they raided the station and seized television transmitters and other equipment worth about US$120,000.
The confiscation was ordered by Husein Huseynov, head of Azerbaijan’s Motor Transport Agency and director of a newly approved state-supported LTV station, station officials told CPJ.
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” in a September 1999 broadcast that accused him of corruption. The officials who raided the station provided no official documents to justify the seizure.
This action was the latest in a series of attempts to silence Sara Radio/TV. On October 9, 1999, local police forced employees to leave the building and then sealed the facility after 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.
Azerbaijani officials have 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 owned by Azeri representatives of the Turkish network ICBC Television.
In a May 19 letter to President Heidar Aliyev, CPJ protested the government’s refusal to review its decision to close the station.
Vahram Aghajanian, Tasnerord Nahang
Two weeks after he was arrested and detained without charge, Aghajanian, a reporter for the newspaper Tasnerord Nahang in Nagorno-Karabakh, was sentenced to one year for defaming Anushavan Danielian, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the disputed territory.
Aghajanian was arrested on March 28, after Nagorno-Karabakh Interior Ministry officials ransacked his apartment in the provincial capital, Stepanakert. Although no evidence of any wrongdoing was found, a spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office stated that Aghajanian had been arrested for “obstructing the implementation of martial law.” Following pressure from international press freedom groups, including an April 6 letter from CPJ, Aghajanian’s sentence was eventually suspended and he was released on April 27.
The article that the court found libelous appeared in a November 1999 issue of Tasnerord Nahang. The newspaper later suspended publication indefinitely, with local observers citing financial and political pressure as likely reasons.
Tasnerord Nahang was said to be controlled by Samvel Babayan, former commander in chief of the disputed territory’s army. Nagorno-Karabakh officials had accused Babayan of orchestrating a March 22 assassination attempt against Arkady Gukassian, self-proclaimed president of the Armenian-controlled enclave.
Rauf Mirqadirov, Bu gun
Mushfiq Aleskerli, Bu gun
Ilqar Elfi, Bu gun
Iman Aliyev, Bu gun
Vuqar Ziferoglu, Bu gun
Kamil Tagisoy, Yeni Musavat
Alim Kazimli, Yeni Musavat
Zabil Muqabiloglu, 525-ci Qezet
Mustafa Hajibeyli, 525-ci Qezet
Megrub Bedelsoy, Eliller
Qabil Zimistanoglu, Gunaydin
Seymur Ahmedov, Avropa
Oqtay Qorchu, Avropa
Sakit Sabiroglu, Avropa
Gulnaz Metin, Hurriyyet
Subhan Ismayilov, Elchi
Firudin Qediroglu, Reytinq
Seventeen journalists were beaten by police while covering an opposition demonstration in the capital, Baku, according to the Journalists’ Trade Union and other sources in Azerbaijan.
The demonstration was organized by the Democratic Congress, an alliance of 10 opposition parties, to demand the resignation of President Heidar Aliyev and a clean vote in upcoming parliamentary elections. Although it had been banned by government authorities, the Democratic Congress went ahead with the protest in Fizuli Square as several thousand people gathered in the streets. Dozens of would-be participants were beaten and injured as police, armed with shields, truncheons, and metal bars, tried to block the square.
About 50 arrests were made, according to the official news agency Turan, but there were no reports that journalists had been arrested.
Revan Chinghizoglu, Bu gun
Eldeniz Bedelsoy, Bu gun
Police accosted Chinghizoglu, a reporter with the independent newspaper Bu gun, and Bedelsoy, a photographer for the paper, when the two journalists tried to investigate reports of clashes between police and high school students who were celebrating their graduation in a Baku café.
When the journalists displayed their press cards, policemen assaulted Chinghizoglu and tried to take Bedelsoy’s camera, according to the Journalists’ Trade Union in Baku. Bedelsoy escaped with the camera, but was chased to the editorial offices of Bu gun by around 20 policemen.
The police forced their way into the editorial offices and verbally abused staff members, according to the newspaper’s editor, Nesib Ismayilov. They forcibly removed Bedelsoy to the 28th Police Section station, where he was held for over two hours. The journalist was only released after the intervention of senior Yasamal District Police Department officials.
A medical examination showed Chinghizoglu had suffered a light concussion, an injured knee, strangulation marks, and several minor injuries. In a June 2 letter to President Heidar Aliyev, CPJ noted that the incident was hardly unique, suggesting a pattern of abuse by Azeri police.
Elmar Huseynov, Monitor Weekly, Bakinsky Bulvar
HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION, CENSORED
The government persistently harassed Elmar Huseynov, editor and publisher of the Baku-based magazine Monitor Weekly and the weekly newspaper Bakinsky Bulvar. Both publications drew unfavorable attention from state officials because of their pointed criticisms of President Heidar Aliyev’s regime.
On April 23, tax inspectors closed down the printing company where Monitor Weekly 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 then refused to print the magazine, according to Huseynov.
Huseynov formerly ran the magazine Monitor, which authorities banned in February 1998 after confiscating copies of the magazine from newsstands across Baku. They also charged Huseynov with defaming the Azeri population in an article entitled “The Azerbaijani Nation in the 21st Century.”
When Huseynov launched Monitor Weekly two years later, 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 statement 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.
On May 7, Azerbaijani tax inspectors sealed the Baku offices of Monitor Weekly for alleged tax violations, although the inspectors did not provide any audit or other documentary evidence to back up their accusations. The next day, Huseynov’s Baku Printing Press, the largest private printing house in the country, was also closed, along with the offices of Bakinsky Bulvar.
On May 16, in response to the complaint of a private company that accused the newspaper of “propagating false information,” Azerbaijan’s Economic Court suspended publication of Monitor Weekly and froze its assets.
Bakinsky Bulvar was also targeted in 2000 for alleged licensing irregularities. Officials 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 argued that he was 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.
On May 31, a Baku district court fined Huseynov and Bakinsky Bulvar reporter Irada Huseynova 10 million manats (US$2270) each for an article by Huseynova that allegedly insulted Defense Minister Safar Abiyev. The article featured evidence linking Abiyev to economic crimes, the state news agency Turan reported. An investigation last year into allegations that Abiyev had condoned embezzlement within the Defense Ministry proved inconclusive, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Caucasus Report.
On June 12, journalists from Monitor Weekly and Bakinsky Bulvar broke the seals on their editorial offices and returned to work. However, tax police sealed the premises once more after the staff left at the end of the day. That same day, a local court rejected a suit filed by Huseynov against a Baku district tax office that had ordered the suspension of both publications.
On June 13, Huseynov told Turan that he intended to request political asylum from an unnamed Western embassy in Baku. He said his decision was prompted by ongoing harassment from local authorities.
On September 4, Huseynov was informed that the court had revoked Monitor Weekly‘s license. The court allegedly handed down the judgment at a July 17 hearing held at the request of the prosecutor’s office.
But according to local human rights experts, Azeri law stipulates that such proceedings may only be called by the Information Ministry. And because Huseynov received the ruling after a delay of nearly two months, he was unable to exercise the statutory right of an appeal within 10 days of the date on the ruling.
No one from Monitor‘s editorial office was invited to attend the July 17 hearing, and Huseynov doubted that it ever took place. At year’s end, Huseynov was publishing Bakinsky Bulvar, but Monitor Weekly was still suspended.
Electricity to the independent television station ANS was cut off 15 minutes into the broadcast of an interview with Chechen rebel commander Shamil Basayev. Officials responsible for the building’s electric supply claimed that the interruption was due to an accident involving power 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, as it allegedly contained terrorist propaganda.
The letter also stated that if ANS TV continued to broadcast such programs, the Procurator-General’s Office would take “more serious measures.”
On July 18, National Security Minister Namik Abasov phoned the editor of ANS TV and threatened to shut the station down if he attempted to rebroadcast the Basayev interview, ANS owner Vakhid Mustafayev told CPJ.
A Baku court granted Minister for Press and Information Siruz Tabrizli’s petition to ban the printing and distribution of the independent thrice-weekly newspaper Uch Noqte. The court’s decision was based on a new law, adopted on February 13, which stipulates that a media outlet can be shut down if it loses three lawsuits. However, local sources told CPJ that there were no legal grounds for banning Uch Noqte, since the paper had lost only one lawsuit since the new law came into effect.
CPJ protested the legal harassment of Uch Noqte in an August 25 letter to President Heidar Aliyev. On November 15, the Baku Court of Appeals overturned the paper’s closure. According to Uch Noqte editor Khoshgadam Hidayatgyzy, the court’s decision was influenced by the attention paid to the case by international press freedom organizations, along with the Council of Europe and the U.S. State Department.
Etibar Jebrayiloglu, Yeni Musavat
Jebrayiloglu disappeared for three days in the southwestern province of Nakhichevan, an Azeri territory located between Armenia and Iran, while covering an attempted hijacking.
Yeni Musavat‘s deputy editor, Shirzad Mamedli, told the ANS news agency that Jebrayiloglu was last in touch with the office at around 1 p.m. on August 20, after which his mobile phone was apparently shut down.
The Nakhichevan police department claimed to have no knowledge of Jebrayiloglu’s whereabouts. When the journalist surfaced on August 23, however, he reported that he had been in police custody.
CPJ protested Jebrayiloglu’s detention in an August 25 letter to President Heidar Aliyev.
Rauf Arifoglu, Yeni Musavat
IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
Arifoglu was summoned to the Baku prosecutor’s office for questioning in connection with an attempted airplane hijacking four days earlier in Nakhichevan, an Azeri territory located between Armenia and Iran. The hijacker, a member of the opposition party Musavat, called Arifoglu from the plane to dictate his demands, which he wanted the editor to publish in the party’s daily newspaper, Yeni Musavat.
Arifoglu immediately notified the police, offering to turn over his tape recording of the hijacker’s demands. The prosecutor’s office, however, tried to make the unlikely case that Arifoglu helped plan the hijacking. Officials interrogated the editor for four hours, and then escorted him to his apartment, where they searched the premises. Arifoglu’s lawyer was not allowed to be present during the search.
Claiming to have found a gun in the apartment, the agents arrested Arifoglu for illegal possession of arms. The editor maintained that the investigators planted the gun in order to frame him.
Several of Arifoglu’s colleagues gathered outside his apartment building while the search was going on. Plainclothes agents attacked journalists Elchin Hasanov and Ilyas Bahmangolu of the independent television station ANS, roughing them up and confiscating their equipment.
Arifoglu was held in solitary confinement at the Ministry for National Security, along with his personal aide and driver Elchin Kelenterli, who was later released. And while authorities soon dropped the accusation of illegal arms possession, the prosecutor’s office still claimed that Arifoglu helped plan the hijacking.
On August 24, Azerbaijan’s main independent media organizations, including three news agencies, 24 newspapers, one magazine, and five press associations, launched a three-day strike to protest Arifoglu’s arrest and other recent attacks on press freedom.
The editor refused to cooperate with investigators and launched a hunger strike on August 28. The next day, he was charged with attempted hijacking, terrorism, and illegal possession of arms. If convicted, he faced between five and 10 years in prison.
On September 3, Arifoglu responded to entreaties from his family and colleagues by ending the hunger strike. The editor suffered from a duodenal ulcer, but authorities denied reports that his health had deteriorated significantly since his detention.
On September 20, prosecutors filed the additional charge of “calling for a coup d’état” against Arifoglu. According to local press reports, the new charges were based on a “linguistic analysis” of articles published in Yeni Musavat. The journalist now faced up to 25 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Arifoglu was released from prison on October 5, although he was required to submit a written guarantee that he would not flee the city before trial. No trial date had been set at year’s end.
Eighteen minutes before beginning its daily broadcast, the independent station ABA TV was shut down without warning. The Ministry of Communications announced later that the station had been closed because of its overdue debts to the state. ABA leases three frequencies from the government, over which it rebroadcasts three Russian channels, as well as its original entertainment programming.
At a press conference on October 5, ABA president Fariq Zulfuqarov said that the communications minister had told him the ban would be permanent. However, the minister did not provide written notice to that effect. Zulfuqarov claimed that President Heidar Aliyev’s office had ordered the closure for political reasons, and that it was not related to the station’s financial obligations.
Zulfuqarov added that six months before, he had been approached by Ali Hasanov, head of the administration’s political department, who offered his patronage and asked in exchange for help in launching a new television channel called Azad Azerbaycan.
Zulfuqarov claimed that after he refused, tax police were sent to harass ABA TV. The company was ultimately ordered to pay a fine of 920 million manats (over US$200,000) for alleged tax violations. Hasanov denied Zulfuqarov’s accusations and threatened to take him to court for libel.
On October 3, the day that ABA TV was shut down, the company’s debt to the government amounted to US$193,848. ABA had paid the entire amount by October 9. Even so, transmission was not restored for another week. On October 14, Zulfuqarov announced plans to sue the state for illegal actions against his station. Three days later, ABA’s signal was restored.