Azerbaijani journalist harassed by security agents

New York, February 24, 2009–A journalist who went to interview the minister of the Ministry of National Security (MNB) in Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic on February 20 was blindfolded and interrogated for hours, according to local news reports. The Committee to Project Journalists called today for an immediate investigation into the incident by the central Azerbaijani government.

Security service agents intimidated and harassed Idrak Abbasov, a reporter with the independent newspaper Zerkalo and a researcher with the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), while he was in Nakhchivan to study regional press freedom conditions. Agents blindfolded him, took his identity papers, camera, video camera, reporter’s notebook, and cell phone, and interrogated him for two hours about the reasons for his trip, according to local news reports and CPJ sources. An unidentified officer demanded that Abbasov reveal the names of his colleagues in the region, cursed at him, and accused him of spying for Armenia, the journalist told CPJ.

Before he was released, a security officer urged the journalist to leave the region immediately and deleted all the pictures from his camera, he said. His documents and equipment were returned. As a result of his treatment, Abbasov was hospitalized with stress-induced heart problems on Saturday in Baku; he remains in the hospital today, IRFS Director Emin Huseynov told CPJ.

“We condemn the Nakhchivan state security services for luring a journalist to their headquarters with the promise of an interview only to blindfold and interrogate him,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on the Azerbaijani central authorities to investigate this incident and punish those responsible.”

Abbasov told CPJ that the MNB had responded to his organization’s request for a meeting and invited him to come to its offices on February 20 at noon. When Abbasov showed up–along with an IRFS colleague–MNB officers called him in alone. “Since our earlier meetings with different government officials in Nakhchivan were held in a friendly manner, I thought there’s no reason to be afraid of going to the MNB alone,” Abbasov told CPJ. “It appears I was mistaken.”