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06-2022

Attacks, threats contribute to pressure on Azerbaijan’s media

Attacks, threats contribute to pressure on Azerbaijan's media

News that police in France have arrested two men suspected of traveling to the city of Nantes to kill an Azeri blogger will come as no surprise to journalists in Azerbaijan.

Attacks, especially on reporting that is critical of authorities, are common, and a failure to bring offenders to justice makes matters worse, journalists and analysts say.

Reports of crime, corruption, human rights abuses or alleged misconduct by the government could result in attacks or pressure, with orders apparently coming from high up, some journalists told VOA. A culture of impunity contributes to the risks.

Last month, an attacker attacked journalist Ayten Mammadova in her apartment building in the capital, Baku. A man followed the journalist to an elevator on May 8, held a knife to her throat and told her to stop reporting on a court case.

The attacker did not say what case he was referring to, but Mammadova believes it relates to her coverage of a trial of a man charged with the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl.

Called threat

“I also received a threatening call on my landline, because I am one of the few journalists who did recent research and wrote articles about this incident,” she told VOA. “I think there are certain forces that do not want the truth behind it. this incident will be revealed. “

The freelance journalist was critical of the investigation and legal proceedings.

The man on trial said in court he was not involved and admitted, after being tortured for four days, a claim that the prosecutor general’s office denied.

In the case in France, the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Sunday that the police arrested “two suspected killers” about 90 km from where the outspoken Azeri blogger Mahammad Mirzali lives.

The blogger’s address was in their GPS system and a photo of him was found in one of the suspect’s phones, reports RSF.

Mirzali, who lives in exile, survived two knife attacks. RSF said it was receiving thousands of threatening messages via social media.

Khadija Ismayilova is pictured at Toplum TV, where she is the editor-in-chief, June 14, 2022. A lack of action to bring offenders to justice increases the risk that other journalists will be attacked, she says.

Khadija Ismayilova is pictured at Toplum TV, where she is the editor-in-chief, June 14, 2022. A lack of action to bring offenders to justice increases the risk that other journalists will be attacked, she says.

Legal protection

Lack of action to bring perpetrators to justice increases the risk that other journalists will be attacked, said Khadija Ismayilova, editor-in-chief of Toplum TV.

“The atmosphere of impunity in the country sends a message to everyone that anyone can target journalists. Anyone can attack journalists. In some cases, the source of these attacks comes directly from above,” she told VOA. “People are being targeted because they criticize the president and his family and reveal things they want to keep secret.”

Shahin Hacıyev, executive director of the Najaf Najafov Foundation, a media development fund, is pictured at his office, February 22, 2022.

Shahin Hacıyev, executive director of the Najaf Najafov Foundation, a media development fund, is pictured at his office, February 22, 2022.

Shahin Hajiyev, executive director of the Najaf Najafov Foundation, a media development fund, told VOA that sooner or later all journalists will be subjected to pressure if they seriously cover crime, corruption, human rights abuses or any other type of misconduct by government agencies.

“This practice has been going on in Azerbaijan for a long time,” the director said. “There are certain topics, there are certain classes of people that you are forbidden to criticize or pass on negative information. A journalist who violates this will be punished.”

“Not based on facts”

Elshad Hajiyev, head of media and public relations at the Interior Ministry, which oversees law enforcement, told VOA such claims were unfounded.

“All these allegations are subjective considerations, not based on facts. [The ministry] focus on taking all measures in accordance with the law, ”Hajiyev said.

The spokesman added that Azerbaijan is taking measures to bring offenders to justice.

Independent journalist Natig Javadli is photographed during a VOA interview, December 15, 2021.  He says journalists and human rights activists have been under pressure in Azerbaijan for years.

Independent journalist Natig Javadli is photographed during a VOA interview, December 15, 2021. He says journalists and human rights activists have been under pressure in Azerbaijan for years.

Under pressure

Journalists and human rights activists have been under pressure for years, according to independent journalist Natig Javadli.

“Journalists work in dangerous conditions,” Javadli said. “The attacks on not only Ayten Mammadova, but [others] shows that journalists are not safe. ”

Ismayilova believes that better communication between officials and the press is the way forward and that the president should lead by example and “be open to the press and tolerate criticism”.

“[Officials] must restore communication with journalists who can act as a bridge between them and society, ”Ismayilova said.

Impunity in attacks should be addressed, the journalist said, adding: “No one who attacks free speech should remain unpunished.”

One problem is that journalists do not have adequate access to the necessary legal aid, said lawyer and media law expert Alasgar Mammadli.

“The state offers free legal aid only to those who are accused of crimes. In addition, direct legal aid is only available at the request of legal entities and with their own funds. “In this regard, legal aid in Azerbaijan is very limited to the media by non-governmental organizations,” Mammadli said.

‘Guaranteed’ safety

On the other hand, Mushfig Alasgarli, chairman of the Union of Journalists, said the state guarantees the safety of journalists at a high level.

Media security is “guaranteed by law”, he told VOA, adding that various mechanisms exist to ensure security.

“Any incidents involving journalists’ organizations or journalists are recorded, acted upon and solidarity is created around that journalist so that the issue can be resolved positively,” he said.

Pressure on independent journalists, including those in exile, and lack of action on attacks against the media are some of the obstacles to press freedom in Azerbaijan, RSF said.

The media watchdog places it 154th out of 180 countries where 1 is the freest on its Press Freedom Index.

This article has its origins in VOA’s Azeri service.

This article is republished from – Voa News – Read the – original article.

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