CPJ condemns press abuses during Azerbaijani election

New York, November 9, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a series of abuses against the press before and during Sunday’s fraud-marred parliamentary election in Azerbaijan. Government officials blocked at least three foreign news agencies from deploying satellite equipment that would have enabled live coverage, while harassing several local journalists who were trying to cover the vote, according to local and international news reports.

“President Ilham Aliyev’s government has again used harassment and obstruction to prevent journalists from freely reporting on elections,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “These abuses are one more indication that Sunday’s election did not meet international standards.”

The Baku-based RUH press freedom organization reported at least six cases in which journalists were harassed or detained while reporting on the election, the independent news agency Turan reported. Mahabbat Orujev, a journalist for the opposition daily Yeni Musavat who was monitoring a polling station in the capital, Baku, was detained by police and taken to a local precinct, where he was held for several hours. Police threatened Azar Aukhan, another Yeni Musavat reporter, at another polling station in Baku.

Authorities also prohibited foreign television crews from broadcasting live during the election, according to local and international press reports. “The National Television and Radio Council cannot authorize live TV broadcasts… [because] there are no appropriate legislative norms for this,” Turan quoted Nusiravan Maharramli, the director of the National Television and Radio Council, as saying.

On November 4, guards on the Russian-Azerbaijani border confiscated satellite dishes from the Russian state television channels RTR and NTV, according to local and international press reports. In mid-October, Azerbaijani authorities expelled from the country a truck with satellite broadcasting equipment owned by the Turkish news agency Ilhas, those reports said.

The Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a pan-European election and security monitoring organization based in Vienna, announced on November 7 that the election was neither free nor fair because of police abuses, campaigning restrictions, voting irregularities, improper ballot counting, and a pro-government bias on state television channels AZTV1 and ITV.

In a 12-page report outlining various election abuses, OSCE monitors also criticized Azerbaijani authorities for harassing and threatened to shutter ANS, the only independent television station to feature more balanced campaign reporting (http://www.osce.org/documents/odihr/2005/11/16889_en.pdf).

Police violence against opposition supporters and journalists covering opposition rallies escalated throughout the year as the November 6 parliamentary elections approached.

On October 9, police beat 10 journalists covering an unsanctioned opposition rally in Baku, including Idrak Abbasov of the Russian-language daily Zerkalo, according to local press reports. Abbasov was beaten unconscious by a plainclothes police officer and hospitalized in Baku, but police posted guards outside his hospital door and prevented journalists from visiting him.