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Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Azerbaijan

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Azerbaijan, February 2005, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
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.

The massive protests that erupted in October 2003 over the election of President Ilham Aliyev continued to have repercussions in 2004. Following the lead of his father, Heydar, who died in December 2003, Aliyev intensified pressure on independent and opposition media and used the country's harsh criminal and civil codes to stifle criticism.

Ilham Aliyev succeeded his ailing father as president after winning 80 percent of the vote. International observers alleged fraud, and protests followed the marred election.

At least 170 opposition members were arrested. Some 70 journalists were assaulted and detained during and after clashes between demonstrators and police, according to the Azerbaijani Committee to Protect Journalists, known as RUH, a press freedom group based in the capital, Baku. (The group is not affiliated with CPJ.) No police officers have been arrested or prosecuted for attacking journalists.

In one of the most blatant cases of government repression following the election, Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the largest opposition newspaper in Azerbaijan, Yeni Musavat (New Equality), was sentenced to five years in prison in October 2004 for allegedly masterminding the previous year's antigovernment riots.

Arifoglu, who is primarily a journalist but is also deputy director of the Musavat (Equality) opposition party, was arrested in October 2003 and kept in custody for the year preceding his trial. A presidential adviser told local media in December 2003 that the editor was kept in detention to prevent him from returning to his journalistic activities.

The Serious Crimes Court in Baku imprisoned six opposition leaders along with Arifoglu on October 22, 2004, but Arifoglu's sentence was the most severe, according to local sources and the U.S.-based Web site, which focuses on Central Asia and the Caucasus. Many journalists told CPJ that Arifoglu was prosecuted for Yeni Musavat's strong criticism of Aliyev and his Cabinet. Yeni Musavat also faced several civil defamation lawsuits from senior government officials that have brought the newspaper to the edge of bankruptcy, according to RUH.

Yeni Musavat and other opposition newspapers practice self-censorship in the face of harsh criminal laws. The Criminal Code allows authorities to imprison journalists for defamation, insult, and disclosing state secrets.

Legislation was passed in November to transform Azerbaijan State Television, the country's largest broadcaster, into an independent public station. However, some local media experts are concerned about how independent it will be. In addition, Azerbaijan's broadcasting regulatory body, the National Broadcasting Council, remains under strict government control, with its nine members appointed by the president.

Azerbaijani journalists faced threats and attacks in 2004 for reporting on politically sensitive issues. In the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (NAR) – a mountainous region in southwest Azerbaijan – local authorities pressured Melakhet Nasibova, a correspondent for the Baku-based news agency Turan and the Azerbaijani Service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Mohhamed Rzayev, a correspondent for the opposition daily Azadliq (Freedom), to stop reporting on sensitive issues such as drug addiction and local government corruption. In the spring, Nasibova received anonymous phone calls and e-mail messages saying that if she did not stop her critical reporting, she and her family would be in danger. Rzayev told CPJ that he receives threatening phone calls from local police every time he criticizes local authorities. He told CPJ that in April, Nakhchivan City police kidnapped him from his home, took him out of the city, beat him, and warned him to stop writing about social problems in NAR.

In July, four masked men kidnapped and beat Aydin Guliyev, editor of the opposition daily Baki Khabar (Baku News). The attackers put a bag over Guliyev's head, tied his hands with a rope, and threatened to kill him if he did not stop criticizing Islam. Guliyev, who is Muslim, said he believed that the government orchestrated the assault to intimidate him and punish his paper for criticizing authorities, The Associated Press reported.

Days after Guliyev's abduction, two unidentified men attacked Eynulla Fatullayev, an investigative reporter with the opposition weekly magazine Monitor, in downtown Baku. Monitor has long angered officials with hard-hitting commentary. Fatullayev was investigating high-level corruption at the time, according to local press reports. Authorities had made no progress in the investigations into these attacks by year's end.

In a rare positive development, a Baku district court dropped criminal defamation charges against Irada Huseynova, an exiled Azerbaijani journalist who had criticized Baku's mayor, after CPJ and other local and international media organizations advocated on her behalf. Huseynova was convicted of criminally defaming Mayor Hajibala Abutalibov in a June 2001 article published in the independent weekly Bakinsky Bulvar (Baku Boulevard). Huseynova immigrated to Moscow to escape punishment.

CPJ highlighted Huseynova's case at a June 2004 meeting in Baku of the Toronto-based International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), which comprises representatives of dozens of freedom of expression groups from around the world. IFEX appealed to Azerbaijani authorities to drop the case against her. Later that month, Abutalibov officially withdrew his charges against Huseynova.

2004 Documented Cases – Azerbaijan

APRIL 2004
Posted: June 22, 2004

Mohhamed Rzayev, Azadlig

Rzayev, a correspondent for the opposition daily Azadlig, has been pressured by the local government in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic to stop his work.

Rzayev told CPJ that he receives threatening phone calls from the police in Nakhchivan City, the capital, every time he criticizes local authorities in his articles. Recently, Rzayev has published critical pieces on corruption in the Nakhchivan school administration and the local government's inability to handle electricity shortages. Rzayev told CPJ that at the end of the month he was kidnapped from his home by local police, taken out of the city, and beaten up. The police warned him to stop writing about social problems in the region.

APRIL 2004
Posted: June 22, 2004

Melakhet Nasibova, RFE/RL

Nasibova, a correspondent for the Azerbaijani news agency Turan and the Azerbaijani Service of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), has been pressured by the local government in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic to stop her work.

On April 4, Nasibova aired a report about drug addiction in Nakhchivan. In the report, she quoted Rashadat Nabatov, head of the drug rehabilitation center in the capital, Nakhchivan City, on the number of drug addicts in the region.

Later that month, Nabatov called Nasibova and asked for a meeting, where, in the presence of police officers, he asked her to apologize for quoting him, according to Nasibova and an RFE/RL report. When she refused, Nabatov said he would sue her for insulting his dignity. On April 28, he pressed libel charges against her. On June 10, she filed a counter-claim against him.

Nasibova has also received threatening anonymous phone calls and e-mail messages saying that if she does not stop her critical reporting, she and her family will be in danger.

OCTOBER 22, 2004
Posted: October 27, 2004

Rauf Arifoglu, Yeni Musavat

Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat, who was swept up in a crackdown against the opposition press following the tainted 2003 presidential election, was convicted on a charge of organizing anti-government riots and sentenced to five years in prison.

The Serious Crimes Court in the capitol of Baku sentenced Arifoglu for his purported role in demonstrations that followed the fraud-marred election of October 15, 2003, according to local and international press reports.

Arifoglu, arrested on October 27, 2003, is the deputy director of the Musavat opposition party but his primary duties entail editing the party's newspaper, Yeni Musavat. A presidential adviser told local media in December 2003 that the editor was being detained to prevent him from returning to his journalistic activities. The prosecution introduced articles from Yeni Musavat as evidence in his trial, according to the independent news agency Turan.

Six other opposition activists were sentenced October 22 to prison terms of three to five years for their alleged involvement in the riots. The unrest erupted after authorities declared Ilham Aliyev, son of the country's ailing president, Heydar Aliyev, the victor with 80 percent of the vote. International election monitors strongly criticized the vote. Some exit polls suggested that Musavat's presidential candidate, Isa Gambar, received more votes than Ilham Aliyev, the New York-based news Web site reported.

"From the first days of the trial to the end it was clear there was no evidence of their guilt," defense lawyer Namizad Safarov said after the October 22 hearing, The Associated Press reported. "No proof of their guilt was presented-only falsified facts."

Safarov said the defendants planned to appeal the conviction in Azerbaijani courts and, if necessary, to the Strasbourg, France-based European Court for Human Rights.

Journalists and human rights activists have told CPJ that they believed the criminal charges were an effort to silence an influential editor known for his criticism of government abuses. The journalists and activists cited weak prosecution evidence, numerous procedural violations in the trial, and a campaign to discredit Arifoglu in the pro-government press as evidence that the charges were a mere excuse to persecute the editor.

NOVEMBER 15, 2004
Posted: January 7, 2005

Yeni Musavat

An Azerbaijani court ordered the opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat to pay hefty libel damages to several government officials and froze its assets and bank account. As a result, the paper ceased publication indefinitely on December 31.

The damages, which total nearly 800 million manats (US$160,000), stem from seven different defamation lawsuits launched mainly by government officials against the paper between 2000 and 2003. Qabil Abbasoglu, Yeni Musavatís acting editor-in-chief, told CPJ it is unclear when or whether the paper will be able to resume publication.

In November 2003, the Sabail District Court in Baku awarded 400 million manats (US$80,000) to Azerbaijanís ambassador to Turkey, Mammad Aliyev, who had sued Yeni Musavat that month for a July 2003 article that allegedly misquoted him commenting on then-President Heydar Aliyevís health, according to local CPJ sources. Several other publications quoted the ambassador about the presidentís health at that time, but only Yeni Musavat was sued.

Plaintiffs in the other defamation suits against Yeni Musavat include Defense Minister Safar Abiyev and President Ilham Aliyevís uncle, according to the Baku-based news agency Turan.

Arif Aliyev (no relations to the president), director of the Baku Press Club, said authorities were using Azerbaijanís courts to shutter the paper, The Associated Press reported.

Yeni Musavat, the high-circulation newspaper associated with the opposition party Musavat, has endured harassment by Azerbaijanís courts for years.

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