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Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Azerbaijan

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Azerbaijan, February 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c564f623.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Despite the authoritarian government's willingness to use military force to quell unrest, it has permitted independent and opposition papers to exist in Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, reporters must labor under both government and military censorship. The Soviet-era censor, an administrative body known as Glavlit, still operates in the government, in tandem with a special unit in President Heidar Aliyev's office, vetting articles before they appear and providing strong guidance and criticism to editors. In November, the National Assembly (the legislature) adopted the Law on State Secrets, which was condemned as overly broad by lawyers and journalists, since it deems certain information on subjects in the public interest – industry, transport, communication, and infrastructure – to be classified. A draft law on the media before the legislature in December contained a proposal to re-register all news outlets with "appropriate executive bodies."

Dozens of critical papers have thrived, some with support from neighboring Turkey, but many have small circulations of 10,000-20,000. Several with larger runs are dependent on government printing presses. In at least one case, an opposition group was banned and some members arrested in a coup attempt, although the newspaper associated with it was tolerated, albeit with threats of removal of its printing license for satirical commentary.

At least one opposition newspaper, Avrazia, a weekly that converted to a daily in early 1996, was shut down for a prolonged period, then resumed publication under new management. Others, like Azadlig, a respected independent paper that converted to a daily in September, as well as 7 Days and Mukhalifat, are repeatedly censored, seized, or threatened. The publications are forced to run cartoons in their issues, since the censors forbid publishers to run blank space to show where an article was removed.

Topics that have fallen under the censors' scissors are government corruption, the human rights situation, relations with Russia, the treatment of Azeri citizens in Russia, the Russian military presence, the conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan's relations with Iran, the assassination attempt against President Aliyev, and disparaging commentary about the president or other high officials. On Dec. 3, the new speaker of Parliament stripped an Azadlig reporter of his accreditation for an article critical of the Parliament. It was the reporter's second such removal from parliamentary coverage. Reporters have also occasionally been detained for several hours and questioned when covering demonstrations.

Prominent political figures, including government officials in office, frequently use the courts to file libel suits against critical journalists. Some newspapers have been compelled to pay heavy fines, crippling their work, but in a few instances, newspapers have been acquitted. A local cultural official filed suit against the newspaper Sugovushan, after that publication characterized him as indifferent toward refugees. The official initially obtained a judgment in his favor with substantial financial compensation for "offense to honor and dignity," but the Supreme Court overruled the verdict.

Azeri journalists have been particularly active in their self-defense. The Yeni Nesil (New Generation) group within the Union of Journalists has organized protest on behalf of colleagues and sought remedy in the courts to reopen newspapers or fight libel suits. The group has also raised Azerbaijan's censorship issues in an English-language bulletin and has covered the press situation in neighboring states.

The government monopolizes television broadcasting, and the Ministry of Communications has generally refused to grant licenses to independent stations. Applicants are told of the need for approval from the presidential administration, which the president's office denies, thus leaving independents without any recourse, because there is no broadcasting law to use to mount a challenge through the courts. Local executive authorities have closed down independent television stations indefinitely until the passage of media legislation. Some stations continue to broadcast illegally, showing great ingenuity with homemade equipment, and resourcefulness in covering local news. One station uses women reporters in the theory that government troops will be less likely to attack them.

March 16
Azer Husseinbala, Azadlig, CENSORED
Taptig Farhadoglu, Turan News Agency, CENSORED
Gunduz Tairli, Azadlig, HARASSED
Kenaan Aliyev, Azadlig, HARASSED

Husseinbala, a parliamentary correspondent for the opposition newspaper Azadlig, and Farthadoglu, a reporter for the independent news agency Turan, were stripped of their parliamentary press accreditation after President Heidar Aliyev's brother Djalal Aliyev, a member of Parliament, publicly criticized the independent media in Azerbaijan. Husseinbala had recently written an article critical of the Parliament. Turan news agency's monthly parliamentary bulletin had come under fire from Djalal Aliyev shortly before Farthadoglu lost his credentials. Djalal Aliyev has called for the closure of all opposition newspapers. This is the second time this year that journalists from Azadlig have been disciplined by the government. On Feb. 7, Gunduz Tairli and Kenan Aliyev, two other Azadlig journalists, were summoned to the prosecutor's office and were urged to publish a retraction of an article on government corruption they had written for the paper. When the journalists refused, they were warned that the next time they published such material they would be brought to trial.

November 25
Elchin Saljug, Azadlig, CENSORED
Azadlig, CENSORED

The chairman of the Main Department for the Protection of State Secrets in the Press ordered the newspaper Azadlig to remove reporter Saljug's articles concerning the dismissal of the prime minister and speaker of Parliament. On Nov. 26, the newspaper printed a cartoon instead of Saljug's articles, in compliance with the government's prohibition on leaving blank spaces where editorial material has been censored. CPJ appealed to President Haidar Aliyev to reinstate Saljug's accreditation and to ensure that any further censorship of the media be stopped.

December 3
Azer Husseinbala, Azadlig, LEGAL ACTION

Husseinbala, a correspondent for the newspaper Azadlig (Liberty), was stripped of his accreditation by order of the new speaker of the Parliament, Murtuz Aleskerov. The action was in violation of Article 37 of the Law of the Azerbaijan Republic on the Mass Media, whereby a journalist cannot be stripped of his or her accreditation without a court order. Aleskerov tried to justify the move by saying that Husseinbala had "negatively assessed the processes taking place in the republic" in several satirical articles. Aleskerov threatened to take the same action against other reporters who criticized the Parliament or its members. When a group of 23 Azeri journalists appealed to Aleskerov to reverse his decision, he told them their appeal was "false."

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