Azerbaijan pressures press freedom advocate’s family, raids apartment

New York, November 6, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the harassment by Azerbaijani officials of the family of Gulnara Akhundova, a regional expert with the Denmark-based press freedom group International Media Support (IMS). Akhundova’s 67-year-old mother was interrogated on Wednesday by prosecutors in Baku who raided her apartment the same day, according to local press reports.

Akhundova, who lives in Copenhagen, told CPJ by Skype, that prosecutors telephoned her mother, Dzhavakhir Akhundova, and asked her to come to their office in Baku for questioning. Authorities did not send an official summons, Akhundova said. Prosecutors asked her mother about Akhundova’s human rights work, and made her sign an agreement not to disclose the information to the public, Akhundova told CPJ. After the interrogation, authorities searched Akhundova’s apartment. Although the authorities did not confiscate anything, Akhundova’s mother and her eight-year-old daughter were traumatized by the experience, she said.

“Azerbaijan authorities hit a new low in harassing the family of a government critic,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Research Associate Muzaffar Suleymanov. “We urge the government to halt its crackdown on journalists and civil society, and to engage in constructive dialogue with its critics rather than trying to intimidate them into silence.”

Akhundova told CPJ she believes her family are being harassed because of her work and a critical statement on human rights and press freedom abuses in Azerbaijan that she made last week before the human rights commission with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Madrid. Authorities told her mother the raid was part of a wider case they were investigating against a group of local and international non-governmental organizations, including IMS, she said. After Akhundova delivered her statement, Rafael Huseynov, an Azerbaijani representative on the Council, publicly called her a traitor and a spy, reports said.

In the past year, Azerbaijan, the current chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe–the largest pan-European human rights body–has unleashed an unprecedented campaign of repression against critical journalists and rights activists, CPJ research shows. More than a dozen reporters and rights activists are currently held in Azerbaijani jails.