Journalist Hafiz Babali gives an interview after being questioned by police in the Abzas Media case. (Screenshot: YouTube/Amerikanin Sesi)

Media crackdown escalating in Azerbaijan

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The December 13 detention of investigative journalist Hafiz Babali is the latest in a crackdown against the press in Azerbaijan. He is at least the seventh member of the press arrested in retaliation for his work in Azerbaijan in the past month.

Azerbaijani authorities have ordered Babali along with four journalists of the anti-corruption news organization Abzas Media to be held in pretrial detention for up to four months on currency smuggling charges. These charges come amidst accusations by authorities that Western embassies and donors funded the outlet illegally. Authorities are not allowing the outlet’s director Ulvi Hasanli to call his lawyers, while he and another journalist in detention have been banned from meeting or speaking with their families.

Azerbaijani authorities are targeting Abzas Media in order to silence its uncompromising reporting on official corruption allegations. CPJ has called on authorities in Azerbaijan to immediately release Babali along with all other unjustly jailed journalists and stop the ongoing wave of reprisals against the independent press.

➡️ CPJ is currently investigating the cases of three other journalists arrested on extortion charges since December 8 to determine if the arrests are related to their work.

➡️ Azerbaijan was recently named host of the U.N. climate change COP29 summit in 2024.

Separately this week, CPJ joined more than 2,000 journalists, media workers, and nonprofit organizations in demanding a stop to journalist deaths in the Israel-Gaza war. “Journalism plays an essential role in documenting history and serving the public interest by exposing realities too often obscured by disinformation and misinformation,” the statement reads. “Our reporting can reveal the true costs of war.”

Global press freedom updates

  • Russia brings new charges against imprisoned journalists Alsu Kurmasheva and Maria Ponomarenko, issues arrest warrant for exiled journalist Masha Gessen
  • Belarusian authorities detain at least two Ranak journalists
  • CPJ calls for release of Al-Araby Al-Jadeed Gaza correspondent Diaa Al-Kahlout 
  • Afghan journalist Sultan Ali Jawadi sentenced to one year in prison; Taliban intelligence forces detain journalist Abdul Rahim Mohammadi
  • Iranian journalist Soltan-Ali Abedi jailed for one year for corruption reports
  • CPJ urges Sudanese paramilitary forces to cease using media institutions as detention centers
  • Algerian prosecutor requests one-year sentence for journalist Mustapha Bendjama
  • CPJ urges South Korea to stop intimidation of Newstapa after raid on editor’s home
  • Malawi police seize ZBS reporter Raphael Mlozoa’s phone, delete photos of officers’ conduct


A CPJ staff member holds up a #FreeJimmyLai sign in New York City, on Dec 5, 2022 (CPJ/Daria Locher).

While EU officials were wrapping up the EU-China Summit this past weekend, Hong Kong journalist Jimmy Lai spent his fourth birthday in a row behind bars. Lai, the founder of the now-shuttered pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and a British citizen, has been imprisoned since December 2020.

On Monday, Lai’s trial on national security charges will begin. On December 7, his son Sebastien Lai asked EU officials to join the call to #FreeJimmyLai, and after a lengthy period of advocacy, Lai’s family finally held a first meeting with U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron. Lai holds dual U.K. and Hong Kong citizenship.

CPJ renews our call to the U.K. government to take immediate action to secure the release of Lai, CPJ’s 2021 Gwen Ifill Awardee. Jimmy Lai’s only “crime” was running a news organization that reported on pro-democracy concerns.

💡Watch Sebastien Lai speak with his father’s lawyer about the ongoing persecution of Jimmy Lai in a panel discussion CPJ hosted in 2022.

🚨 From smears to death threats, both of Lai’s U.K. and Hong Kong legal teams, which work independently of each other, have been subjected to pressure in retaliation for their defense, CPJ reported.

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