Swedish television crew detained, deported

New York, April 18, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed dismay today over Azerbaijan’s deportation of a Swedish television crew that had arrived in Baku to film a documentary on human rights and freedom of speech. CPJ urged Azerbaijani authorities to stop obstructing the international press.

According to CPJ sources and local press reports, plainclothed men detained journalists My Rohwedder Street, Charlie Laprevote, and Charlotta Wijkström at a protest rally in the capital city Baku on Sunday. The men, who did not identify themselves, detained the crew members and took them to the Sabail District police department in Baku, then transferred them to the headquarters of Azerbaijan’s Migration Service, the local press reported. The men also confiscated their digital cameras and erased all existing footage from their memory cards, international press reported.

The crew members were reportedly told that they were missing press accreditation documents that they allegedly needed to work in Azerbaijan, according to CPJ sources. The journalists, however, had received valid journalist visas from the Azerbaijani Embassy in Stockholm, Rohwedder Street told the independent Caucasus news website Kavkazsky Uzel. Rohwedder Street said that she and her colleagues officially informed the Azerbaijani authorities of the purpose of their visit when they applied for the visas.

Around 6 p.m. Baku time today, all three reporters were deported from Azerbaijan to Turkey, Mehman Aliyev, director of the Baku-based independent news agency Turan, told CPJ. According to the Azeri Press Agency, a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said today that the ministry had investigated the incident with the Swedish crew and concluded that the journalists had to be deported because they did not have press accreditation.

“We deplore the illegal detention and deportation of our colleagues My Rohwedder Street, Charlie Laprevote, and Charlotta Wijkström and call on Azerbaijani authorities to allow them to report in the country without fear of harassment and obstruction,” Nina Ognianova, CPJ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said. “It is of utmost concern that the international television crew was singled out for retaliation despite their valid documentation.”

Rohwedder Street, Laprevote, and Wijkström arrived in Azerbaijan on Friday to produce a documentary on human rights and freedom of speech for the Swedish public broadcaster Sveriges Television. On Sunday, they arrived at Saahil Square in Baku, where the opposition was preparing for an anti-government rally. The crew was setting up to report on the protest, local press said. Staffers from the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), who were at the scene, told CPJ that plainclothed men singled out the Swedish crew even though other members of the press were present. The crew members were detained before the protest started.