In a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on December 17, members discussed the media situation in Azerbaijan, including the recent arrest of two young bloggers and pressure on independent media. Tunne Kelam, a member from the Republic of Estonia, introduced an amendment to a resolution on Azerbaijan demanding that the Government of Azerbaijan restore FM broadcasts of RFE/RL, VOA and BBC. The resolution was adopted.
Kelam told the assembly, "The …problem is a recent decision by Azerbaijani authorities to cancel the FM radio licenses of several international radio stations, like Radio Free Europe, the Voice of America, the BBC World Service, and others, depriving listeners in this country of valuable and independent sources of information…I ask colleagues to agree to an overall amendment in paragraph 7 of the resolution, namely not only to voice regret over the situation, but also to urge the Azerbaijani government to cancel its decision and renew FM licenses to the radio stations mentioned."
The European Parliament’s resolution comes one year after the Azeri government barred RFE/RL’s Azeri service and other international broadcasters from FM frequencies effective January 1, 2009. The ban was widely criticized by international rights organizations, but the Azeri government defended it as a measure needed to bring the country into comformity with European standards. “Azerbaijan is a member of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan is integrating to the European Union, European standards should be implemented in TV radio broadcasting too,” Nushirevan Maharramli , the head of the National TV and Radio Council, told journalists last October.
The resolution also addresses the imprisonment of Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, two Azeri bloggers who were arrested in July on “hooliganism” charges widely believed to be in retaliation for a satirical video they produced about corruption scandals in Azerbaijan.
Vytautas Landsbergis, former President of Lithuania and currently a member of the Parliament, co-sponsored the resolution. In an interview with RFE/RL, he said that Azerbaijan is walking on thin ice regarding its commitments to democratization and improvement of media freedom. “[There were] too many events, in a short time, worsening the situation in Azerbaijan but also damaging the good name and opinion about Azerbaijan in [the European] Union,” Landsbergis said. “It looks like the Soviet Union in old times.”
The resolution urges Azerbaijani authorities to “address the lack of police investigation into cases of violence and harassment against journalists and the fact that many crimes have so far gone unpunished.” It also stresses the importance of decriminalizing defamation and insult, offenses often used by prosecutors and courts to silence critics and encourage self-censorship.
“This resolution should be considered as a warning and call for Azerbaijani authorities not to build any doubts about the line chosen by Azerbaijan -- if it made its choice for European direction,” Landsbergis said.
Laima Liucija Andrikiene, a Lithuanian member of the European Parliament, also sponsored the resolution.