Award-winning reporter barred from leaving Azerbaijan

New York, June 17, 2013–Authorities in Azerbaijan should lift the travel ban imposed against journalist Mehman Huseynov and allow him to travel freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Authorities at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku, the capital, detained Huseynov today as he was attempting to leave for Norway to receive the Gerd Bucerius Free Press of Eastern Europe journalism award, according to news reports. Huseynov, a photojournalist and blogger with the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and the local news agency Turan, has often reported on human rights abuses in the country.

Following his detention at the airport, Huseynov was transferred to Baku district police, where he was kept in custody for four hours, and ordered to sign a pledge that said he would not leave the country, the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported. Huseynov was told his detention and travel ban were connected to a criminal case against him, in which he is accused of assaulting a police officer during an anti-government protest in Baku in June 2012. Huseynov denied the allegations, and his brother, Emin Huseynov, director of IRFS, told CPJ that police had not produced any evidence in the case.

Huseynov told Kavkazsky Uzel that he signed the pledge and that his mother flew to Norway to receive the award.

“By barring Mehman Huseynov from traveling to accept a journalism prize, Azerbaijani authorities have only confirmed the authenticity of his reporting: that press freedom and human rights are being repressed in the country,” said Muzaffar Suleymanov, CPJ Europe and Central Asia research associate. “Authorities should drop their charges against Huseynov and allow him to travel without restrictions.”

Press freedom has deteriorated in Azerbaijan in the last two years, threatening the public’s access to uncensored news ahead of the October 2013 presidential elections. At least seven independent journalists are currently being held in Azerbaijani jails, while others are subjected to intimidation, attacks, and threats of being imprisoned, CPJ research shows.

  • For more on Azerbaijan, visit CPJ’s Azerbaijan page here.