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Freedom of media in Azerbaijan: statement sent to Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has sent a statement to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers concerning Azerbaijan’s failure to perform obligations arising from the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights that refer to long-term prison sentences imposed against journalists convicted for defamation.

Another restriction on media freedom

Although the country’s authorities had officially agreed to take action for strengthening the protection of the freedom of speech, recently the situation of Azerbaijani journalists has dramatically deteriorated. The HFHR noted in the statement that 2017 saw another wave of arrests and convictions of journalists and bloggers who addressed subjects inconvenient for the regime. An example of this legal crackdown is the prison sentence of two years handed down on vlogger Mehman Huseynov or the upholding of the order that prohibits the investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova from travelling abroad. Ms Ismayilova spent over a year in prison.

Major news portals blocked

Despite promises, Azerbaijan did not abolish criminal liability for defamation. What is more, in March 2017 the country adopted new, more strict laws that allow the censorship of online and printed media by way of blocking websites with “terrorist”, “defaming” or “copyright-violating” content. After the new laws came into force, authorities permanently blocked key information portals such as Azadliq.info, Meydan TV, Azerbaycan Saati, Turan TV or Azadliq.org.

HFHR: Committee of Ministers should respond

“In its letter to the Committee of Ministers, the HFHR points to the need of carrying on the dialogue between the Committee of Ministers and Azerbaijan, which should lead to Azerbaijani authorities assuming the obligation to address new violations of the freedom of expression. We emphasise in the letter that Azerbaijan should renew the dialogue with the Venice Commission in order to ensure that the new legislation conforms to the European Convention on Human Rights”, HFHR lawyer Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska says.

The Foundation called on the Committee of Ministers to adopt an interim resolution obligating Azerbaijan to release imprisoned journalists and bloggers and repeal any laws that restrict the freedom of expression.

The Foundation’s letter to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers is available for viewing here.

Abhorrent human rights situation in Azerbaijan

As a member of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan is obliged to respect the European Convention on Human Rights. However, as both the monitoring actions performed by the HFHR and reports of international organisations confirm, human rights abuses are commonplace in Azerbaijan. A campaign of repression started in Azerbaijan in 2014 resulted in the disintegration of independent media outlets, which were critical towards the government. Because of a stiff legal regime of association, the civil society in Azerbaijan effectively has ceased to exist. According to estimates of the few local human rights defenders, there are currently over 100 political prisoners om Azerbaijan.

The European Court of Human Rights has issued many judgments naming detention of journalists and human rights defenders unjustified and politically-motivated. The HFHR has prepared amicus curiae opinions in some of these cases, e.g. in the cases of Rasul Jafarov and  Rauf Mirgadirov (the case is still pending).

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