The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has today called on the Azerbaijani government to stop criminalising journalism following a new wave of criminal prosecutions against journalists, bloggers and human rights activists in the country.
The call came after the government has sent eight journalists and eight bloggers to jail for their criticism against the government. They include blogger and activist, Abdul Abilov, who, early this week, was accused of drug trafficking and given five and a half years sentence. Supporters of Abilov, however, said that the imprisonment was due to his critical web page on the social networking site, Facebook, which criticised the government.
Another high-profile case concerns the eight-year imprisonment of journalist Parviz Hashimli who works for the independent newspaper website Bizim Yol. Hashimli was convicted of possessing and smuggling firearms, which he denied. Hashimli’s colleagues defended that the charges were fabricated and his conviction was due to his critical reporting on the government.
International press freedom organisations and institutions including the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, have also condemned the recent prosecution saying that the “unjustified and selective” criminal prosecution of dissidents, in particular, journalists, bloggers and human rights activities in the country.
The EFJ affiliate, the Azerbaijani Union of Journalists (JuHI), criticised the lack of transparency in the prosecution processes against journalists and bloggers. Mushfig Aleskerli, JuHi President warns, “The court must remain independent in its decision making and should not be overshadowed by political interference.”
The EFJ has expressed deep concerns over the recent developments in the country and called for international actions to be taken to address the violations of human rights of journalists and citizens in Azerbaijan which holds the current chairmanship at the Council of Europe. The EFJ has also reiterated the call on the Azerbaijani government to release all journalists who were prosecuted for doing their jobs.