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Travel ban imposed of the Azerbaijani journalists

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights presented an amicus curiae brief in the case Ganbarova and Others v. Azerbaijan before the European Court of Human Rights. It concerns the Azerbaijani journalists that have been subjected to travel bans imposed on them by the authorities.

Travel bans

On different dates in 2015 and 2016 the applicants learned that restrictions on their right to leave Azerbaijan were imposed and that they were no longer allowed to leave the country.

In some of the cases the restrictions were imposed by the investigating authorities, in the absence of any judicial decision. What is more, the journalists were not convicted, accused or suspected persons, but were questioned only as witnesses in the criminal proceedings relating to the activities of Meydan TV, an online media channel where some of the applicants worked.

The journalists challenged the lawfulness of the restrictions imposed on them – they lodged a complaint both with the administrative courts and with the ordinary courts under the procedure concerning the review of the lawfulness of procedural actions or decisions by the prosecuting authorities.

In majority of the cases the domestic courts refused to examine the applicants’ complaints on the merits declaring themselves incompetent to examine such a complaint.

HFHR’s amicus curiae brief

The HFHR in its amicus curiae brief presented to the Court argues that travel bans imposed on the journalists by the Azerbaijani authorities clearly interfered with their freedom of movement. However in our view, the travel bans in this case may have been applied by the State authorities with an aim to stifle journalistic criticism and silence civil society activism.

The imposition of the travel bans on the applicants in this case cannot be analysed in isolation from the context that it may be an element of routinely targeting independent media by public authorities in Azerbaijan.

In Azerbaijan fulfilling a “public watchdog” role by media in controlling the authorities’ actions and providing society with information is an extremely difficult task as the constitutional guarantees for press freedom are routinely and systematically violated there. According to the Freedom House Report from 2017, the independent and opposition media outlets in Azerbaijan struggle financially and have faced heavy fines and other hindrances as retaliation for critical coverage. Journalists are threatened, harassed and intimidated with a variety of both legal and non-legal measures, either in order to prevent them from further publishing or as a repression for already published materials. As a consequence many media professionals have been detained or imprisoned on fabricated charges.

The report notes also that the Azerbaijani government has increasingly restricted freedom of movement, in particular with respect to foreign travels, for opposition politicians, journalists, and civil society activists. The pressure on independent media outlets outside the country, and those associated with them working from the inside, has been also reported by the United States Department of State in its Human Rights 2016 report.

The amicus curiae brief is available here.

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