As Azerbaijan prepared to assume the 2014 chairmanship of the Council of Europe—the largest European intergovernmental human rights and democracy organization—the authoritarian regime of President Ilham Aliyev shamelessly trampled on press freedom at home. The authorities continued to stifle critical voices, target free expression on the Web, and sentence reporters to lengthy prison terms. A local journalist was barred from leaving the country to pick up his journalism prize in Norway, while dozens of foreign media personnel were declared persona non grata in Azerbaijan. The harassment, including by the government-affiliated press, of investigative journalist Khadija Ismailova went unpunished. Aliyev extended criminal defamation laws to the Internet and tightened funding restrictions for domestic NGOs, including press freedom organizations, despite a domestic and international outcry. In June, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso offered Aliyev public support instead of holding the leader responsible for human rights and press freedom violations in his country. In October, the authoritarian leader was re-elected to his third term after the Central Elections Commission denied registration to opposition candidate Rustam Ibragimbekov.
Azerbaijan continues to censor critical journalists and editors by fabricating charges against them and sentencing them to lengthy jail terms. According to CPJ's annual prison census, conducted on December 1, 2013, at least eight journalists were being held in retaliation for their reporting.
|Editor of the independent daily Khural, was given a nine-year jail term in March on fabricated extortion charges.|
|Editor of the religious news website Xeber44, was given an eight-year jail term in April for inciting ethnic and religious hatred with his coverage of Muslim activities. Guliyev was initially arrested on hooliganism charges.|
|A columnist for the leading opposition daily Yeni Musavat, spent 11 months in pretrial detention after being charged with organizing mass disorder.|
|Editor of the minority newspaper Talyshi Sado (Voice of the Talysh), was given a five-year jail term in September on charges of treason, incitement to hatred, and illegal sale of drugs. He was first arrested in June 2012.|
After a June travel ban on photojournalist Mehman Huseynov, which prevented him from accepting an international journalism award in Norway, Azerbaijan's foreign ministry issued a list of foreign nationals—among them 67 journalists and media workers—who are barred from entering the country. News accounts reported that the individuals had previously visited Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed region over which Azerbaijan fought a deadly war with neighboring Armenia in the 1990s.
United States: 4
United Kingdom: 4
Northern Ireland: 1
In late April, Radio Azadlyg, the Azerbaijani service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reported that the authorities had jammed their programming. RFE/RL said that its satellite signals had been interrupted "with jittery images, distorted sound, and static." Authorities have a history of interfering with RFE/RL broadcasts around the region.
Articles 147 and 148 of Azerbaijan's criminal code were amended in May by Parliament to extend to the Internet punishment for slander and insult. President Aliyev signed the law in early June, Reuters reported.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.