Police crackdown on media amid presidential elections

New York, October 17, 2003—Police and security forces attacked and wounded dozens of journalists covering two opposition rallies held in the Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku.

According to local and international press reports, the Musavat Party organized several rallies to protest the outcome of presidential elections held on Wednesday, October 15.

The Central Election Commission had issued preliminary results reporting that Prime Minister Ilham Aliyev, son of the country’s ailing authoritarian president, Heydar Aliyev, had taken nearly 80 percent of the vote, and that the Musavat Party candidate, Isa Gambar, received 12 percent of the vote.

At a rally in front of Musavat’s Baku headquarters on Wednesday evening, the independent Turan news agency reported that unidentified civilians attacked two of its correspondents—Elkhan Kerimov and Emin Huseynov. According to Turan, which is based in Baku, the attacks occurred in the presence of police officers.

When policemen arrived to break up the rally at 1 a.m., several men, wearing black uniforms without any insignia, detained Azer Qarachenli, an editor for the independent weekly Avropa, and took him away, said Avropa editor-in-chief Fakhri Ugurlu.

According to Ugurlu, Qarachenli “called us to say that the police had taken him but then his mobile phone was cut off. We still haven’t heard from him, and the police said they haven’t arrested him.”

On Thursday morning, October 16, security forces blocked all access to the Musavat Party headquarters where the opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat is based. The newspaper is currently being published from the offices of the opposition newspaper Azadlig, Ugurlu told CPJ.

Later that day, thousands of angry protesters gathered in central Baku and converged on Azadlyg Square where several thousand riot police and soldiers used tear gas, police dogs, water cannons, and truncheons to violently disperse the crowd. Despite presenting their press credentials to cover the protests, dozens of journalists were severely beaten by police and security forces during the riot, which lasted three hours, said local news reports.

Turan news agency released the names of some of the journalists injured during the attack, the list includes: Zagfar Guliyev, Emin Huseynov, and Ilkin Guliyev of Turan agency; Fuad Hasanguliyev and Sabina Iskenderli of the Interfax-Azerbaijan news agency; Agil Jamal and Hayal Babayev of the Azadlig newspaper; general secretary of the Confederation of Journalist Organizations Azer Hasret; Shirhan Agayev of the Prognoz newspaper; Sarkarda Sarkhanoglu, Nabi Alishov, Adil Huseynov, Tahir Aliyaroglu, and Tebriz Sadayoglu of the Hurriyet newspaper; Nidjat Daglar, Kenul Veliyeva, Metanet Muslimgizi, and Vasim Mamedov of the Baki Habar newspaper; Eynulla Umudov and Etibar Savalan of the Galanjak Gun newspaper; and Elza Abishova, Mansura Sattarova, Lala Musa gizi, Afgan Gafarov, and Kenan Rovshanoglu of the Cumhurriyet newspaper.