New crackdown on human rights activities in Azerbaijan

Photo: Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS)

Avaz Zeynalli, chief editor of Khural newspaper, charged for tax evasion and corruption.

The Azeri government is putting new pressure on the country’s already repressed civil society. NGOs that receive even minor funds can be severly punished, according to a new draft law. The draft follows a series of repressions of media workers and civil activists.

According to the proposed amendments NGOs receiving donation over the equivalent of 190 euro without a proper agreement, face up to 3500 euro and confiscation of property. This increases the authorities’ control over NGOs.
The violations have grown in the beginning of 2013. Media workers that have been covering demonstrations and riots have been arrested, questions and in some cases beaten. At the same time the homes of journalists and civil activists have been searched, detained, subjected to gas attacks, put under surveillance and in other ways obstructed in their work.

“This is especially worrying taking into account that presidential elections are to be held in Azerbaijan in the autumn of 2013. Swedish and other European leaders should already now make clear to the Azeri government that such violations of basic civil and political rights are inacceptable. Otherwise the elections will most probably be as unfair as previously in Azerbaijan”, says Joanna Kurosz, programme director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Civil Rights Defenders.

Currently, there are 9 journalists behind bars in Azerbaijan. One of them is Tofig Yagublu, Yeni Musavat newspaper columnist and deputy chairman of the oppositional party, who is arrested and charged of ‘attempting to undermine the socio-political stability in Ismayilli region in Azerbaijan, organizing actions violating the public order and resisting representatives of the authorities’. Besides prison sentences, journalists are subjected to various forms of harassment.

A recent example is Rahim Hajiyev, deputy chief editor of Azadliq newspaper, who was summoned to the Prosecutor General`s office on February 5th and threatened with criminal liability for writing a critical article about planned protests of residents of the Shamakhi region of Azerbaijan. A correspondent of the Azadliq newspaper, who had been writing on the same topic, is repeatedly intimidated by the district prosecutor ‘for leaking the news about local protests to the media’.

A number of other reporters who were covering opposition protests on January 26th were beaten and detained by the police while performing their professional duties. Another development that raises concern is the imprisonment of Avaz Zeynalli, chief editor of Khural newspaper, who is charged for tax evasion and corruption in a case that local human rights defenders consider fabricated.

Categories: News.
Tags: Freedom of expression and Freedom of the press.
Regions: Azerbaijan.