CPJ concerned about harassment of journalists in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic

New York, June 18, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned that authorities in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (NAR)—a mountainous enclave in southwest Azerbaijan—have harassed two journalists writing about politics, economics, and social issues, including local government corruption.

Melakhet Nasibova, a correspondent for the Azerbaijani news agency Turan and the Azerbaijani Service of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Mohhamed Rzayev, a correspondent for the opposition daily Azadlig, have been pressured by the local government in Nakhchivan City, NAR’s capital, to stop their work.

On April 4, Nasibova aired a report about drug addiction in Nakhchivan. In the report, she quoted Rashadat Nabatov, head of the drug rehabilitation center in Nakhchivan City, on the number of drug addicts in the region.

Later that month, Nabatov called Nasibova and asked for a meeting, where, in the presence of police officers, he asked her to apologize for quoting him, according to Nasibova and an RFE/RL report. When she refused, Nabatov said he would sue her for insulting his dignity. On April 28, he pressed libel charges against her. On June 10, she filed a counter-claim against him.

Nasibova has also received threatening anonymous phone calls and e-mail messages saying that if she does not stop her critical reporting, she and her family will be in danger.

Meanwhile, Rzayev told CPJ that he receives threatening phone calls from the local police every time he criticizes local authorities in his articles. Recently, Rzayev has published critical pieces on corruption in the Nakhchivan school administration and the local government’s inability to handle electricity shortages. Rzayev told CPJ that at the end of April he was kidnapped from his home by local police, taken out of the city, and beaten up. The police warned him to stop writing about social problems in the region.

At a CPJ press conference in Baku this morning, Executive Director Ann Cooper denounced the persecution of journalists who criticize government officials. See the release.