February 19, 2022
President of Azerbaijan
Sent via email: [email protected]
Dear President Aliyev,
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-governmental organization advocating for press freedom worldwide, write to share our concerns about growing threats to press freedom and the safety of journalists in Azerbaijan, and urge you to take immediate steps to reverse this trend.
On February 8, you ratified the law “On Media,” which dramatically increases the grounds on which news outlets can be shuttered and blocked and establishes a restrictive state-maintained registry of recognized media, among other measures. The law is riddled with ambiguities and onerous requirements, and appears deliberately calculated to target the last remaining bastions of free media covering the country. We call on you to recognize the widespread opposition to the law among the independent media community in Azerbaijan and take measures to repeal it and ensure that it is never used against members of the press.
We are also concerned about the plight of journalists Polad Aslanov and Afgan Sadygov, who are currently imprisoned in direct retaliation for their journalism.
Aslanov, chief editor of the independent news websites Xeberman and Press-az, has been imprisoned since June 2019 on retaliatory charges of treason. In November 2020, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison on these charges. Aslanov suffers from a pre-existing chronic heart condition and his health has further deteriorated during his incarceration. Despite prolonged serious dental problems, rheumatism, and other ailments, prison authorities have repeatedly either denied him medical care or provided him with care that is inadequate. Aslanov has undertaken four separate hunger strikes to protest his unjust sentence and mistreatment by prison authorities, despite already suffering from low weight. During his most recent hunger strike this January, his weight dropped to just 40 kilograms (88 pounds) and doctors warned him that he risked incurring permanent physical damage.
The Supreme Court hearing for Aslanov’s appeal is set for February 24. This date marks a good opportunity for Azerbaijani authorities to correct the injustice and finally drop the charges against Aslanov immediately and unconditionally.
Sadygov, chief editor of independent news website Azel.tv, has been imprisoned since May 2020 on charges of extortion. Following his sentencing to seven years in prison later that year, Sadygov began a 241-day hunger strike, which he ended only when the Supreme Court reduced his sentence to four years last July. During the hunger strike, Sadygov developed serious problems with his kidneys and lungs and lost 47 kilograms (104 pounds), at one point briefly falling into a coma. For the past seven months, Sadygov has undergone treatment in a penitentiary service hospital for lung problems contracted during the strike.
As president, you have immense power to direct the course of press freedom and human rights in Azerbaijan. We call on you to repeal the “On Media” law and ensure that Azerbaijani authorities release Aslanov and Sadygov, and allow them and all other journalists in Azerbaijan to work freely and safely.
We appreciate your consideration of this matter to ensure press freedom and journalists’ safety in the country and look forward to your response.
Committee to Protect Journalists