Assaults continue on Azerbaijani reporter

New York, May 20, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about the safety of Agil Khalil, a reporter for the opposition daily Azadlyg who has been assaulted several times in the past three months. Authorities have taken no measures to guarantee his protection, according to local CPJ sources.

On May 10, Khalil tried to fly to Istanbul to visit his relatives, but border guards at the airport in Baku stopped him, citing an order by the Prosecutor-General’s Office, the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) reported. The next day, May 11, Khalil tried to leave the country by land, but was turned away at the border for similar reasons.

Khalil covers social and environmental issues for Azadlyg.

“We call on the authorities to investigate the attacks on Khalil, and in light of the continuing assaults on him, we call on them to allow him to travel freely,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said.

In March, four unidentified men encircled Khalil when he was leaving his office; one assailant stabbed him in the chest, narrowly missing his heart.

Then on May 7, Khalil barely escaped two attempts on his life when at least two unidentified men tried to push him onto the tracks in a Baku subway station, according to IRFS Director Emin Huseynov. Later the same day, Huseynov said, another pair of unknown men in their 30s tried to kidnap Khalil near his house in Baku. Khalil managed to shake off his attackers but, fearing for his safety, he spent the night away from his home.

On May 12, Prosecutor-General Office Spokesman Vyugar Aliyev told the Azeri-Press Agency that Khalil had unsuccessfully tried “to mislead the investigation [into his stabbing attack] by giving incorrect testimonies” in order to “evade interrogation and trial by making groundless statements.” Aliyev also said that Khalil tried “to leave the country several times in order to evade the investigation,” the news agency reported.

IRFS’s Huseynov told CPJ that Khalil was summoned to the prosecutor’s office on May 14, where he was questioned at length in the presence of his lawyer. The prosecutor’s office did not provide Khalil and his lawyer, Elchin Sadygov, with a written explanation for the journalist’s travel ban. Instead, Huseynov told CPJ, investigators at the prosecutor’s office tried to pressure Khalil to sign an agreement not to leave the country.

According to Article 165 of Azerbaijan’s Code of Criminal Procedure, such an agreement is only imposed on suspects or those officially accused of a crime.  Khalil did not sign the document, Huseynov told CPJ.

The physical assaults on Khalil date back to February 22, when two unknown men beat the journalist while he reported on the cutting down of trees in the Baku area known as Olive Gardens. Khalil reported the incident to the police.