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Preying on the Press

Azerbaijan -- Preparatory appeal hearing for bloggers Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, Baku, 22Dec2009
Azerbaijan -- Preparatory appeal hearing for bloggers Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, Baku, 22Dec2009
To mark World Press Freedom Day, international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) last week issued its annual list of Predators of Press Freedom, which names forty politicians and religious and militia leaders “that cannot stand the press, treat it as an enemy and directly attack journalists.”

Ten of the predators are in countries where RFE/RL broadcasts, and include Afghanistan’s Mullah Mohammad Omar, Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov and Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov. RFE/RL spoke with RSF’s Elsa Vidal about press freedom under Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev, another predator on the list.

RFE/RL: Why has RSF dubbed Ilham Aliyev an enemy of the press?

RSF: It is because the situation of freedom of the press in Azerbaijan hasn’t been improving over the last years. Since Ilham Aliyev became a predator of [the] press, he hasn’t implemented any new steps that could amend the situation. To the contrary, he has done all that was possible to try to keep the press in Azerbaijan as muted as possible. There were a lot of prosecutions against journalists. There are still cases of journalists who are behind bars but who don’t belong in jail.

RSF wanted to underline that the overall picture in Azerbaijan [in terms of] press freedom is very bad and quite worrying, and that Ilham Aliyev is to blame for that as he created a system where he uses the police and justice [system] to control the press.

RFE/RL: How much worse is the situation in Azerbaijan compared to last year?

RSF: I would say it’s quite stable, even though we have had good news -- journalists being released from jail, such as Ganimat Zahidov, such as Mushvik Huseynov. But unfortunately Eynulla Fatullayev remains behind bars [despite the fact that] the European Court of Human Rights declared that his imprisonment is unlawful and illegal and asked Azerbaijani authorities to release him as soon as possible and pay him [more than] 25,000 Euros in damages.

Also, we have in mind the situation of the two bloggers who were unfairly taken to court and then convicted and have been behind bars for months now. There are also various cases of police violence against journalists, against independent media such as the daily newspaper Azadliq, or sometimes against journalists of RFE/RL who are trying to investigate the situation in Nakhichevan. So the situation is quite stable but not good. Stable is not always a good thing.

RFE/RL: Azerbaijan’s president is the only figure on the list from among the three Caucasian states. Does it mean that the status of press freedom in Azerbaijan is the worst in the region?

RSF: It is always very difficult to compare the situation of press freedom because it depends on numerous criteria. But speaking of numbers of journalists in jail, speaking of violence against journalists, yes, I would say that the situation in Azerbaijan is worse, at least it’s more tense and it has been so for years.

It doesn’t mean that other countries are free from violence against journalists. It says that Ilham Aliyev has made a policy of repression against journalists.

Originally reported by Anna Zamejc, for RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service.