Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 23
Political Influences: 28
Economic Pressures: 22
Total Score: 73
Life Expectancy: 72
Religious Groups: Muslim (93.4 percent), Russian Orthodox (2.5 percent), Armenian Orthodox (2.3 percent), other (2.3 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Azeri (90.2 percent), Dagestani (2.2 percent), Russian (1.8 percent), Armenian (1.5 percent), other (3.9 percent)
Press freedom continued to deteriorate in Azerbaijan as police violence against journalists intensified and the government clamped down on independent media ahead of the November parliamentary elections, which the international community reported were neither free nor fair. Constitutional protections for freedom of the press and a specific prohibition on censorship are not always respected. Libel is a criminal offense, punishable by high fines or up to three years' imprisonment. The number of libel suits declined in 2005, but courts continued to rule against the media. The opposition paper Yeni Musavat was forced to cease publication in early 2005 for several months after it was ordered to pay $160,000 in libel charges from various defamation lawsuits and the court froze its assets. In April, the Supreme Court upheld the 2004 conviction of Rauf Arifoglu, editor of Yeni Musavat, on charges of inciting antigovernment riots, even though President Ilham Aliyev pardoned Arifoglu and other political prisoners in March. As a result, Arifoglu was unable to run in the elections. A draft Freedom of Information Act was not fully adopted by the end of the year, although President Aliyev demanded more transparency at government institutions. The National Television and Radio Council (NTRC), whose nine members are appointed by the president, has been criticized for its lack of independence and transparency in issuing licenses and monitoring media. The NTRC revoked private channel ANS TV's radio license for its Sheki affiliate six weeks prior to the election, and the NTRC chairman threatened to revoke ANS TV's nationwide license. Obtaining a broadcast license requires applying for certification with the Ministry of Justice, which is a major obstacle for independent and opposition media.
Several journalists and media workers who were covering political demonstrations and campaigns were beaten, arrested, and prevented from filming debates or entering polling stations. In February, a journalist with the independent magazine The Monitor was reportedly abducted by military officials, detained for five hours, and forced to sign an apology for articles he wrote about the military. A building in Baku where several opposition media outlets are located was attacked by policemen and members of the youth wing of the Yeni Azerbaijani Party. In March, Elmar Huseinov, the well-known founder and editor of The Monitor, was shot in front of his Baku apartment. In the past, Huseinov had been fined and threatened for his work. The government called the murder an "act of terrorism," although Huseinov's colleagues maintain the motive was Huseinov's journalistic work. The investigation was ongoing at the end of the year.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe representative on media freedom issued a report in July commending the degree of pluralism in the print media, which enjoyed greater freedom than did the broadcast media. Although some broadcast outlets presented diverse views, their reach was restricted to major cities. President Aliyev issued a decree in May stating that all candidates would have equal media access, but most broadcast outlets maintained a strong pro-government bias. Local authorities, or executive committees, frequently closed down stations, hijacked supplies, and directed editorial content. In August, in an effort to comply with Council of Europe regulations, the government launched Azerbaijan's first public television station by transforming former state channel AzTV2 into Ictimai Televiziya (ITV). Although the channel was able to provide a level of impartiality, ITV is funded by the state, and most of its coverage is devoted to the ruling party. Foreign news sources are readily available, but at least three foreign news agencies were prohibited from broadcasting live coverage during the elections and at other points during the year. In general, access to news outside of Baku was limited. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains a sensitive topic, and journalists have been repeatedly intimidated while trying to conduct interviews in the disputed region.
Most private broadcast outlets are owned by ruling party supporters. The government at times prohibited the printing, sales, and distribution process of independent and opposition media. The main printing press is in Baku, and the two main press distribution agencies are controlled by the government. In August, police confiscated copies of the opposition daily Azadliq and arrested a subway vendor for selling copies, even though the government had lifted the ban on the sale of opposition papers in the subway system in March. State libraries could not subscribe to opposition newspapers, and those employed by the government were pressured to purchase pro-government publications. In addition, state-owned companies and most private firms were pressured to advertise with pro-government media outlets. Most independent newspapers are in debt and would be unable to survive without occasional government aid or support from international organizations. The government did not restrict internet access, but it did require internet service providers to be formally licensed with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies.
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