The staff of the Baku bureau of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, known locally as Radio Azadliq, have been honored with the 2015 David Burke Distinguished Journalism Award for exceptional integrity and bravery in reporting.
The annual award was announced by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) this year on October 14, and was presented to members of the Azerbaijani Service on December 16.
“Our 2015 Burke Award winners represent the best of U.S. international media,” said Chairman Jeff Shell, at a ceremony held at the BBG’s offices in Washington, D.C.
The recognition comes one year after Azeri officials raided and forcibly closed the bureau on December 26, 2014, in connection with a purported investigation of foreign organizations. Twenty-six staff members were interrogated in the days following the raid, most without the benefit of legal representation. Several staff members subsequently fled the country and sought asylum abroad; others remain in Baku and are unemployed.
Shell recognized the Azerbaijani Service’s Baku bureau staff members for their "uncommon courage, consummate journalistic professionalism, and deep commitment to the principles of democracy and free speech."
Since the closure, the Azerbaijani Service has continued to report and deliver the news from RFE/RL’s headquarters in Prague, on its website and social networks and via satellite. It was the only independent media outlet to provide live, extended coverage of Azerbaijan’s November parliamentary elections, recording half a million views of election-related videos on its Facebook page on November 1.
Other Burke Award recipients were Ibrahim Ahmed from Voice of America’s Hausa Service, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting’s Jose Alpizar, Shohret Hoshur from the Uyghur Service at Radio Free Asia, and the producers of the Alhurra Television series Delusional Paradise, Leila Bazzi, Pierre Jad, and Georges Chawah.
Just after the presentation of the award, the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe convened a public hearing to examine Azerbaijan’s closure of RFE/RL’s Baku bureau and imprisonment of RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova, and consider steps toward restoring and strengthening independent media in Azerbaijan.