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Norwegian Journalist Gets Azeri Treatment

Azerbaijan – Norwegian journalist Erling Borgen, Baku, 05May2010
Noted Norwegian journalist and filmmaker Erling Borgen recently visited Azerbaijan to produce a documentary on freedom of expression under the authoritarian leadership of President Ilham Aliyev.

He left with firsthand experience.

Borgen tells RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that much of the material he filmed and collected in Azerbaijan -- largely focused on the case of imprisoned journalist Eynulla Fatullayev -- was confiscated by unknown persons shortly after he checked in at the Baku airport for his flight back to Oslo early on the morning of May 6.

Borgen says he passed through security checkpoints with no problem but that he was told he had too much luggage when he tried to check in. He said he was also told that he and his crew were not allowed to take any hand luggage onboard because it was too large.

"At this moment, we were surrounded by six or seven people," Borgen says. "Their behavior was aggressive and they did not communicate with us in English.

"They said we had to place all luggage on the counter. They wanted to weigh it. In the middle of this process, which lasted 30 to 40 minutes, the clerk behind the desk pushed a button and my personal luggage disappeared inside a black hole. By jumping on the luggage carousel, I was able to recover our camera. But my personal luggage had disappeared."

Borgen says the ticket clerk apologized and said he'd be able to retrieve his luggage later. But Borgen says he didn't see his bag again until Oslo, and that by then, it was missing a number of items, including:
-- A hard disk with all of his five to six hours of filming
-- All of his documents, including his list of contacts in Baku
-- Press releases from various NGO
-- Memory cards from his digital camera
-- Photos of Fatullayev

Borgen said someone also inspected his mobile phone. "I know because they had changed the language from my Norwegian to English," he says.

Maharram Safarli, the service chief of the state firm AZAL, which administers the airport, told RFE/RL that he was not aware of the Borgen incident but said, "Security officials never bother anyone without serious reasons."

Subsequent efforts to contact Safarli were unsuccessful.

Borgen has filed complaints with the Norwegian police and the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

President Aliyev was listed as one of 40 "Predators of Press Freedom" by Reporters Without Borders on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

"This says a lot about what kind of regime Azerbaijan is today," he says. "They fear freedom of expression. ... I admire my brave journalist friends in Azerbaijan."

All is not lost, however. While he was still working in Azerbaijan, Borgen says he made several copies of his work and sent them all ahead.

"We have all the material in Oslo and have studied the material today," Borgen tells RFE/RL. "It is very good, very interesting, and we will start the editing very soon!"

In a press release about he case issued on Friday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said, "“We are alarmed by this heavy-handed attempt to prevent reporting on Eynulla Fatullayev’s continued imprisonment in defiance of a European court order from reaching the outside world.”

Originally reported on RFE/RL's Watchdog.