Azerbaijan should end the intimidation and harassment of journalists and civil society activists

“The increasing repression faced by journalists and civil society members in Azerbaijan is reason for deep concern”, said today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, referring to the arrests, detentions and judicial harassment that are stifling freedom of expression in the country.

“In recent months, the Azerbaijani authorities have intensified the crackdown on independent media, civil society and activists who were legitimately carrying their work or manifesting dissenting opinions or critical views of the government. In November 2023, at least six journalists were arrested on dubious charges, including the director of Abzas Media, Ulvi Hasanli, and its chief editor Sevinj Vagifgyzy, the founder of Kanal 13 online television channel, Aziz Orujov and its host, Rufat Muradli, as well as independent journalist Teymur Karimov. Several other journalists were questioned and reported harassment and receiving threats in connection with their journalistic activities and critical reporting. At the beginning of March 2024, the police raided the offices of the independent online television station Toplum TV and detained its founder, Alasgar Mammadli, and journalist Mushfig Jabbar. I have also been following with concern the situation of other people detained or harassed for their legitimate activities in Azerbaijan, including Gubad Ibadoghlu, an academic and a prominent civil society figure, who is suffering from several serious health conditions while in detention.

Since 2019, I have repeatedly drawn the attention of the Azerbaijani authorities to the deteriorating situation in relation to the enjoyment of freedom of expression and media freedom, as well as a continuing hostile environment for human rights defenders and civil society activists who face various forms of harassment, intimidation and reprisals. Unfortunately, the authorities have continued to show a stark disregard for their human rights obligations in these fields, thereby exacerbating the situation within the country.

Last month, a court in Baku sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment the independent journalist Avaz Zeynalli, who I have previously called on the authorities to release. I have also made an appeal to release a prominent civil society activist, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who had been the target of reprisals and intimidation over many years, including criminal prosecution, threats and physical violence, and who remains behind bars to this day. On several occasions, such as in my July 2023 letter to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Azerbaijan and in my recently-published Observations, I called on Azerbaijan to improve adherence to standards relating to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and ensuring that human rights defenders, lawyers and civil society activists can carry out their legitimate activities in a safe and enabling environment, without the risk of being subjected to reprisals, harassment and other obstacles.

I urge the Azerbaijani government to take decisive steps to ensure full respect of its human rights obligations. This would require the release of all those, including journalists and civil society activists, who were imprisoned for their legitimate work or for expressing dissenting or critical opinions, and creating an enabling environment for the activities of journalists, civil society and human rights defenders, including in relation to their enjoyment of the rights to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.”

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