Eurovision Must Shine Light on Mistreatment of Journalists in Azerbaijan

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)  today called for Europe's media to shine the spot-light on the state of media freedom and the mistreatment of Azerbaijan journalists in the build up to this month's Eurovision Song Contest.

‘Europe's journalists and broadcasters descending upon Baku to report on Europe's most popular music competition, should also focus the media spotlight on the host's treatment of their Azeri colleagues,' said Beth Costa, IFJ General Secretary.

With the unsolved murder of journalists Rafig Tagi in November 2011 and up to six journalists currently in jail or facing prosecution, the IFJ's affiliate, the Journalists Trade Union of Azerbaijan (JUHI), last month launched a campaign against the growing violence against media employees claiming up to 30 separate incidents in the first four months of 2012.

The campaign, also supported by the Yeni Nesil Journalists' union was launched in response to the brutal beating of Idrak Abbasov, journalist for Ayna-Zerkalo. In the same incident, his colleagues Gunay Mustafayeva of Yeni Musavat was attacked and Ramid Ibadov of Bizim Yol threatened.. The three journalists were attacked on 18 April by the security officers of the state oil company (SOCAR) while reporting on the protests of residents against the demolition of their homes by the company. Over one month after Idrak Abbasov suffered two broken ribs, severe concussion and possible damage to his eyesight, no action has been taken against the perpetrators.

While physical violence against journalists is not new in Azerbaijan, the seedier side of efforts to destroy the careers of independent journalists was exposed in March when investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was threatened with blackmail before becoming the victim of a defamation campaign led by the government controlled media.

Khadija Ismayilova first went public in March after receiving intimate photos of her in the post with a threat to either ‘behave' or ‘be disgraced'. Following her public condemnation of this blackmail attempt, a video of her in bed with her partner that had been secretly filmed was uploaded onto the internet and a defamation campaign was launched against her by leading pro-government media including the ruling party's newspaper, the Yeni Azerbaijan.

The JUHI condemned these actions as a ‘flagrant violation of the law' before demanding that the Baku Public Prosecutor find and punish those responsible. "Ismayilova's case is the result of a climate of impunity" said Mushfig Alasgarli, Chair of JUHI. "Dozens of attacks have been committed against journalists in the past years and the perpetrators have not been punished."

The Azerbaijan Press Council further condemned the government media defamation campaigns in the Yeni Azerbaijan, Ses, and Iki Sahil newspapers and called on the authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the attempted blackmail. But there is growing frustration at the failure of the authorities to properly investigate a crime that would have re-quired sophisticated support.

"While the authorities may be unable to prove who was able to insert concealed cameras into Ismayilova's home, the link between the blackmail threat of public disgrace and the subsequent defamation campaign led by the ruling party's own newspaper is impossible to ignore," said Stephen Pearse, General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists. "It is time the government's record of dirty tricks, brutal violence and illegitimate imprisonment of jour-nalists are properly exposed."

For more information on the current state of the Azerbaijan media scene see the report "Running Scared" published by the International Partnership Group on Azerbaijan (IPGA) a coalition of international NGOs working to promote and protect freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.

For more information, please contact IFJ on + 32 2 235 22 07
The IFJ represents more than 600.000 journalists in 134 countries.