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Friday, October 07, 2022

Azerbaijan passes media bill despite protests from journalists

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Azerbaijan’s parliament adopted a new media law on Thursday, despite concerns from journalists who said it could further limit independent journalism.

The law, which went into effect on January 1 after being signed by the president, includes a registry for journalists and will apply to media outlets in the country as well as those who broadcast or publish to Azerbaijani audiences.

This week dozens of journalists gathered in the capital, Baku, to protest the law. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), at least one reporter was injured during the rally.

Local media and rights groups have said that the law could allow the government to determine who is officially recognized as a journalist, and raised concerns that the registry contains details about journalists and their work contacts. shall include.

The law would also make it harder for media outlets who continue to operate in exile without registering in the country, and include provisions that ban the dissemination of information from unofficial sources, rights groups including the RSF said.

Alasgar Mammadli, a media law expert based in Baku, told VOA that the law was kept unchanged, except for two minor details, despite serious objections from the media.

“We said that there were many problems in the document and we proposed that Parliament amend 40 articles based on those issues. Unfortunately, those suggestions were ignored,” Mammadali said. The move will not improve the state of journalism and media freedom in Azerbaijan, it will make it worse.”

Mamdali believes that journalists need to take the problems related to the new law to the courts as soon as possible and may seek support from the European Court of Human Rights.

Police officers push back protesters during a rally of journalists against a new media bill in front of the Parliament House in Baku, Azerbaijan on December 28, 2021.

Police officers push back protesters during a rally of journalists against a new media bill in front of the Parliament House in Baku, Azerbaijan on December 28, 2021.

Guest Aliyev, director of the independent news agency Turan, also said he believed the law would be used to restrict the media.

,[The law] The information testifies to the strengthening of state control over the community. The new law is meant to strengthen information relations between the Azerbaijani government and society,” Aliyev said.

MLA Aydin Mirzazade, a member of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, dismissed media concerns, saying the bill was widely discussed and media representatives contributed to it.

“I think the law will govern the relationship between the media and the state and the media and society as a whole. In other words, the law protects the freedom of the media, freedom of expression and any restrictions on that, especially on social networks. Or does not impose restrictions,” he said.

He also rejected the claims of some analysts who said that the law contradicts Azerbaijan’s constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

“If they find the law unconstitutional, they have the right to tell the court which articles of the law are contrary to the Constitution. There is a very simple solution to the problem,” Mirzadeh said. “On the one hand, he says That the law is reactionary; on the other hand, they can express themselves freely. That is, their actions contradict what they say.”

One of the biggest concerns cited by journalists and rights groups is that the law would give authorities the power to decide who can work in journalism.

EurasiaNet explained that people with previous criminal records would not be eligible for recognition, and publishers must be citizens and full-time residents.

FILE - Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismailova, center, talks to reporters in Baku, Azerbaijan May 25, 2016.

FILE – Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismailova, center, talks to reporters in Baku, Azerbaijan May 25, 2016.

While the accreditation process is voluntary, the new rules will exclude journalists such as investigative reporter Khadija Ismailova, who spent 500 days in prison for being accused of being falsely accused in retaliation for her reporting on corruption.

Without official press passes, journalists may find it difficult to gain access to officials and some events.

“I could probably do my research. But they [officials] Will not answer my journalistic questions, ”said Ismailova.

Another rule that troubled the media was that the publishers lived in Azerbaijan. According to reports, the already oppressive environment may impact independent news outlets established outside the country.

RSF’s Jean Cavalier said in a statement: “Rich in foul words and contradictions, this law aims to increase control over the media and legitimize censorship.”

“The state is encroaching upon its powers by interfering in the commercial activities of journalists, without the consultation of independent media or experts specializing in freedom of expression.”

The RSF and others believe the law would add to an already oppressive atmosphere. Azerbaijan ranks 167th out of 180 countries as free in the 1st World Press Freedom Index.

This article originated in VOA’s Azeri Service.

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