Azerbaijan, one of the 10 Most Censored Countries in the world, according to new research by the Committee to Protect Journalists, is to host the first-ever European Games this June. As Baku prepares to bask in the spotlight by hosting an international mega-event yet again, eight of the country's independent journalists, including award-winning investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova, languish in jail in retaliation for their work. Azerbaijan's most prominent media freedom defender, Emin Huseynov, has taken refuge at the Swiss embassy to avoid politically motivated prosecution and imprisonment; dozens of human rights defenders and civil activists have been jailed or forced into exile; and the work of multiple independent nongovernmental organizations and media outlets has been paralyzed or shuttered by authorities that have zero tolerance for criticism or dissent.
It is no wonder that the European Court of Human Rights has a backlog of pending Azerbaijani cases. Today, the Sport for Rights coalition, a group of international organizations that includes CPJ, issued a letter to the European Court, calling for it to prioritize the review of nine cases filed on behalf of eight Azerbaijani journalists whose rights to life, free expression, and due process have been denied. The Sport for Rights coalition, which seeks to raise the world's attention to Azerbaijan's appalling press freedom and human rights record in the run-up to the European Games, urged the European Court of Human Rights president, Judge Dean Spielmann, to "ensure that these critical cases are reviewed expeditiously, as they are emblematic of the state of media freedom in Azerbaijan."
"The failure to prioritize these cases could raise questions about the effectiveness of the system for the protection of human rights within the member states of the Council of Europe," the coalition said. "As respect for human rights by Azerbaijani authorities wanes, the few remaining independent media outlets, journalists, and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan depend on the court to dispense justice and uphold their rights."
- For more data on imprisoned journalists, visit CPJ's Press Uncuffed campaign.