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Azerbaijan: New Amnesty report details abuses against journalists and clampdown on free speech as activists demonstrate at London embassy

Appeals for release of award-winning journalist

A new report from Amnesty International today details assaults, harassment, intimidation and imprisonment of independent journalists in Azerbaijan. The report examines the cases of individual journalists who have experienced persecution and makes a series of recommendations to the Azerbaijan authorities.

On 30 June the Milli Mejlis, Azerbaijan’s parliament, will consider new regulations on NGOs and mass media which will increase the government’s control and scrutiny of the activities of journalists and human rights activists, undermining their ability to monitor abuses and hold the authorities to account. They could also limit the access to the country for international human rights organisations. Emin Hüseynov, head of the country’s media watchdog Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) said that if voted through by parliament, the legislative changes would pave the way for the closure of independent media and organisations that stand for freedom of expression.

To coincide with the report launch Amnesty supporters are today demonstrating outside the Azerbaijan embassy in London, handing in thousands of appeals for the release of jailed newspaper editor Eynulla Fətullayev, who was awarded the Amnesty International Special Award for Journalism Under Threat earlier this month. Activists will hold a 270-metres-long paper chain, made from petitions that thousands of people have signed, which reads:

“I believe speech should be free. I believe Eynulla Fətullayev should be free. And I believe the papers of Azerbaijan should not be kept in chains.”

WHEN: Monday 29 June 2009, 12 noon –1pm
WHERE: Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 4 Kensington Court, London, W8 5DL

Amnesty International members in other European countries, including Germany and Turkey, are also taking to the streets today in support of independent media in Azerbaijan, which is coming under increasing pressure from the authorities.

Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International, said:

“A society without an independent media and civil society is a voiceless society. Its members are easy prey for human rights violations.

“The introduction of restrictive legislation and the banning of foreign radio broadcasters are some of the methods that the authorities in Azerbaijan are using to muzzle the media.

“Independent journalists are being intimidated, arrested and sent to prison after unfair trials. Attacks and even murder of independent journalists remain unresolved.”

Amnesty International has compiled a list of cases illustrative of the range of human rights abuses that journalists in Azerbaijan have been subjected to in recent months:

- Emin Hüseynov, head of the IRFS, was been allegedly beaten so badly by police, with their fists and the butt of a gun, that he spent three days in intensive care.

- Aqil Xalil from Azadliq newspaper was stabbed in the chest in 2008 and attacked again later last year. Although the authorities claimed they had found a perpetrator, Aqil Xalil and Azerbaijani human rights organisations believe that the true assailants have escaped justice.

- Elmar Hüseynov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Monitor, was shot dead in 2005. Four years on, no one has been brought to justice.

- Eynulla Fətullayev and Qanimat Zahid are in prison after unfair trials for their peaceful journalistic work.
In April 2007, after years of harassment including beatings, threats and libel suits, outspoken journalist Eynulla Fətullayev was arrested and sentenced to two and a half years in prison for libel. In October 2007 he was sentenced on further trumped-up charges of terrorism, tax evasion and incitement of ethnic hatred, and is now serving a total sentence of eight and a half years’ imprisonment. There was no plausible evidence to back up the charges, and Amnesty International believes that his imprisonment is an attempt to silence his independent reporting.

- Journalists in Naxçivan, an autonomous Azerbaijani exclave situated between Armenia, Iran and Turkey, have also been repressed for trying to report alleged abuses of power by local officials.

Amnesty is calling for an end to the practice of charging journalists with criminal offences just for exercising their right to freedom of expression. It is urging the Milli Mejlis not to pass any amendments that could be used in effect to prevent the legitimate activities of media and civil society organisations. Amnesty is also calling on the Azerbaijan authorities to release Eynulla Fətullayev and Qanimat Zahid and to investigate promptly and impartially all attacks on journalists.

Download the full report from our research headquaters

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