Censorship Plagues Press in Armenia, Azerbaijan, CPJ Reports

Washington, D.C., Jan. 15, 1998-The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is calling on the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia today to respect the right to a free press accorded citizens in democracies and to provide guarantees enabling journalists there to work freely and safely, without fear of reprisal.

“Censorship continues to plague journalists in Azerbaijan, where it is practiced outright, as well as in Armenia, where strict government controls are tantamount to censorship,” said Nicholas Daniloff, the veteran journalist who investigated the status of press freedom in the two countries for CPJ. His study, titled “Paradoxes in the Caucasus: A Report on Freedom of the Media in Azerbaijan and Armenia,” will be released publicly today at a 3:30 p.m. briefing in the Woodrow Wilson Center Library of the Smithsonian in Washington.

CPJ’s executive director, William A. Orme, Jr., said that the report was prompted by persistent political and military censorship, restrictive media legislation, and numerous violent attacks against journalists in the two countries. “If Armenia and Azerbaijan wish to be accepted into the community of European democracies, as they say they do, then both governments must end these censorship practices and provide solid legal safeguards for an aggressive, independent news media,” Orme said.

Daniloff, director of the School of Journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, met with local editors, reporters, members of media and human rights groups, and government officials during three months of research in the two countries last year. His report documents hundreds of instances of censorship in Azerbaijan, where often whole articles and photographs are cut from newspapers, and details numerous examples of how Armenian officials use verbal and sometimes physical pressure to keep journalists in line.

Describing the media climate in the region as “ambiguous and sometimes surreal,” CPJ urges the governments of the two countries to take immediate steps to end hostilities and threats to the press that contradict all universally recognized principles of democracy. It also calls on the United States to stress the importance of free media in its dealings with both countries. Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Repeal of criminal codes limiting criticism of government officials through various statutes penalizing “false and dishonoring” comments that are used in both countries to suppress journalistic investigation;
  • Removal by the Azerbaijan government of all political and military censorship of the media, which continues in violation of its own constitution and all international norms of press freedom and free speech;
  • Investigation by the two governments of all cases of violent attacks against journalists and media organizations and the punishment of perpetrators of such acts to dispel the climate of fear inhibiting freedom of expression.

For a copy of CPJ’s report on press freedom in the Caucasus, contact Anitra Pavlico: tel. (212) 465-1004, ext. 106; fax (212) 465-9568. The report is also available at http://www.cpj.org/caucasus/caucasustoc.html. CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom around the world.