Pro-opposition journalist abducted, beaten in Azerbaijan

New York, March 28, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the abduction and beating in Baku this weekend of Seimur Khaziyev, a reporter for the pro-opposition daily Azadlyg (Freedom), and called on Azerbaijani authorities today to thoroughly investigate the incident and bring all the assailants to justice.

Six masked men abducted Khaziyev at a bus stop in the Baku suburb of Dzheiran Batan at around midnight on Saturday, when he was returning home from work, the independent Caucasus news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported. According to the site, the attackers pushed Khaziyev into a Mercedes minivan, took his two cellphones, put a bag over his head, and drove him to an unknown location where they beat him. Two hours later, Khaziyev was shoved back into the minivan and dropped off at a roadside outside Baku, Kavkazsky Uzel said.

Emin Huseynov, head of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, told CPJ that the assailants demanded that Khaziyev stop criticizing President Ilham Aliyev in the newspaper. Khaziyev sought medical attention and reported the attack to the police after a doctor documented his injuries, Huseynov said.

“We are outraged by the brutal attack on Seimur Khaziyev and call on Azerbaijani authorities to thoroughly investigate it and bring all perpetrators to justice,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Azadlyg has long been the target of vicious retaliation for its pro-opposition editorial line. Authorities must ensure that all journalists are allowed to work without fear of reprisal.”

Huseynov told CPJ he believes the attack was meant to intimidate Azadlyg reporters from criticizing Azerbaijani authorities, and specifically President Ilham Aliyev, in their reports.

Azadlyg staffers have long been at odds with the Azerbaijani government, CPJ research shows. Journalists have been physically attacked, intimidated, and imprisoned in retaliation for their work. In 2006, Azadlyg journalist Sakit Zakhidov was sentenced to three years in jail on a fabricated drug charge, and two other reporters with the daily, Nijat Huseynov and Fikret Huseynli (Huseinli), were assaulted in Baku. In 2008, authorities convicted Azadlyg Editor Genimet Zakhidov on trumped-up hooliganism charges, and sentenced him to four years in jail. The same year, reporter Agil Khalil was stabbed and assaulted in Baku, and barred from leaving Azerbaijan.