Agil Khalil barred from leaving the country

New York, June 19, 2008—Authorities at Heydar Aliyev International Airport barred a reporter whose life has been threatened from leaving the country today, the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety said. Agil Khalil, a reporter for the independent daily Azadlyg, tried to board a flight to France this morning when he was stopped by a plainclothes agent at a passport checkpoint. Khalil did not receive an official explanation.

This is the third time in little more than a month that Khalil has been prevented from leaving the country. Khalil tried to leave the country shortly after two consecutive attempts on his life on May 7, but was barred by authorities. Khalil’s lawyer, Rashid Hajili, told CPJ there is no legal provision allowing authorities to place travel restrictions on a crime victim. Idrak Abbasov, founder of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, told CPJ that Khalil had a passport and the appropriate visa.

“We are outraged by the continuing harassment of Agil Khalil, whose life has been threatened and is now illegally prevented from leaving the country,” said Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Khalil is neither a criminal nor a suspect, yet authorities continue to treat him as such. Instead of holding him prisoner, they should ensure his safety and punish those responsible for the attacks against him.”

Khalil was waiting to board his flight at about 4 a.m. today after passing customs control and a passport check, Abbasov said. A plainclothes agent asked to see the Khalil’s passport and, after speaking by phone with a supervisor, told the journalist that he was barred from leaving Azerbaijan, Abbasov told CPJ.

The independent Caucasus news Web site Kavkazsky Uzel said Khalil was barred from leaving the country because he is the victim in an ongoing assault trial. “They told me I have no right to leave the country because of the trial. This is absolutely absurd—I am a victim, not a suspect in the case,” Khalil told Kavkazsky Uzel. When CPJ met with Khalil in Baku in May, the journalist said he believes the wrong man is being tried in the stabbing and he refused to participate in what he considered to be a sham trial.

Based on its own research, CPJ sent a letter to Azerbaijan Prosecutor General Zakir Qaralov on June 3, calling for a thorough and transparent investigation into the brazen assaults on Khalil. CPJ highlighted disturbing evidence of Azerbaijani prosecutors’ concerted efforts to impede the probe. Authorities falsified information, ignored evidence, and smeared the embattled reporter in state-sponsored media, CPJ found.