Police officers assault journalists

New York, September 11, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is outraged by a police attack earlier this week on a group of independent and opposition journalists outside the police headquarters in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku.

The attack occurred after 4 p.m. on Monday, September 8, in front of the headquarters while the journalists, were covering the arrival of Popular Front activist Fuad Mustafaev for police questioning, said local press reports.

Mustafaev was called in for questioning following an argument that broke out on September 6 during a live televised debate on state-run Azerbaijan television. During the debate, Mustafaev threw a glass at a presidential candidate, the Interfax news agency reported.

Police officers, led by Deputy Chief of Police Yashar Aliyev, emerged from the headquarters, dispersed the Popular Front supporters, and then assaulted the journalists.

The journalists “flashed their identification, but the policemen started beating us with fists, throwing us to the ground and kicking us with their feet,” said Kenan Guluzade, a producer with the Baku office of Internews, a U.S.-based media training organization, who along with Internews cameraman Manaf Guliyev was filming the attack. “The police confiscated our digital recording and escorted us to the police station, where the policemen beat us more. Having no proper equipment to view the recording, two policemen escorted us to the Internews office and previewed the commentary,” added Guluzade.

After reviewing the film, the police returned it to the journalists.

Local media reported that other journalists, who were beaten, included: Khalig Bakhadur of the Azeri-language opposition daily Azadlyg; Azer Rashidoglu and Matin Yasharoglu of the Russian-language independent daily Zerkalo; Ray Karimoglu, editor of Azeri-language independent Milli Yol; Mirdjavid Rahimov of the private Space television channel; Khadidzha Ismailova of the Russian-language independent daily Ekho; Mudfig Abdullayev, editor of the Azeri-language opposition daily Bu Gyun; and Hagani Safaroglu of the Azeri-language independent weekly Avropa.

“There was nothing illegal in the actions of the police,” deputy police chief Yashar Aliyev told CPJ in a telephone interview yesterday. “We are sorry if some journalists accidentally got hit by the police.”

The attack occurred amid growing political tension ahead of the October 15 presidential elections. President Heydar Aliyev remains hospitalized in the U.S. with heart and kidney ailments and recently appointed his son prime minister in what opposition activists see as an effort to establish a political dynasty.