Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 25 (of 30)
Political Environment: 30 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 22 (of 30)
Total Score: 77 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Despite constitutional and legal protection for freedom of speech and of the press, media freedom in Azerbaijan continued to decline in 2007. Libel suits, unfair trials, physical attacks and financial pressure were all used to limit media freedom. Huge oil and gas revenues allow President Ilham Aliyev to maintain a firm grip on power. Fearful of a "color revolution" scenario, the government continues to clamp down on all opposition media and has no tolerance for criticism. A draft law on defamation has yet to be adopted. As a result, libel remained a criminal offense, punishable with high fines and up to three years' imprisonment. Nine journalists imprisoned in 2007 and one remained in jail since 2006, making Azerbaijan the fifth-leading jailer of journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Three journalists remained in jail at the end of the year.

In January, Faramaz Allahverdiyev, a Nota Bene journalist, was convicted of libeling the minister of internal affairs and sentenced to two years' imprisonment. In May, Sanat journalist Rafig Taghi and editor-in-chief Samir Sadagatoglu were convicted of inciting religious hatred and sentenced to three and four years imprisonment, respectively. In May, Mukhalifet journalist Yashar Aghazade and Editor-in-chief Rovshan Kabirli, were convicted of libel and sentenced to 30 months' imprisonment as a result of a lawsuit filed by a member of parliament. These five journalists were released by a December presidential pardon. In July, police arrested a Bizim Yol journalist Mushvig Huseynov on charges of accepting a bribe, which the newspaper alleges was a setup. He remained in prison awaiting trail at the end of the year. In October, a Baku court sentenced the already-jailed editor-in-chief of Realny Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaijan, Eynulla Fatullayev, to eight and a half years imprisonment and a €164,000 fine on charges of supporting terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred and tax evasion. The charges stem from an article criticizing Azerbaijan's relations with Iran. He remained in jail at the end of the year. The two newspapers that Fatullayev operated were evicted from their premises in May. In November, a Baku court convicted Ideal newspaper editor-in-chief Nazim Guliyev of libel and sentenced him to 30 months' imprisonment. Guliyev was released from prison in December after an appeals court overturned his sentence. Also in November, police arrested Azadliq newspaper Editor-in-chief Ganimat Zahid on charges of hooliganism and inflicting minor bodily harm, charges which Guliyev maintains were a conjured up. He remained in pretrial detention at the end of the year. In December, RFE/RL correspondent Ilgar Nasibov was convicted of libel and sentenced to three months in jail. The ruling was overturned. The same court also convicted Nasibov of libel on separate charges and sentences him to one-year probation. There is an overwhelmingly sense of impunity, as crimes perpetrated against journalists go almost entirely unpunished. There were several reports of violence against journalists in 2007. There were no developments or arrests made in relation to any of the crimes committed against journalists this year or in previous years, including the 2006 kidnapping of Azadliq journalist Fikret Huseynli and the 2005 murder of founder and editor of The Monitor, Elmar Huseynov.

The government wields significant control over the National Radio and Television Council (NRTC), the broadcast watchdog and licenser. The Frequency Commission provides the NRTC with a list of available frequencies to assign, although only two licenses were granted in 2007. ANS TV received a six-year broadcast license in April after being shut down for several months in 2006 by the NRTC. Two Russian-language newspapers were suspended in May due to safety violations, according to the Ministry of Emergency Situations. The Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Finance Ministry are the main tools for government-backed political intimidation of media and businesses. In May, 15 journalists working for two daily newspapers, Gundelik Azerbaijan and the Russian-language Realny Azerbaijan, sought political asylum when the papers were closed.

Despite the intimidation, there remains a relatively large number of opposition and independent media. However, with distribution channels run by pro-government companies and most newspapers having to print in government-owned publishing houses, the print media is not readily available across the country. The government continued to pressure independent newspaper vendors who distributed independent and opposition newspapers. State-owned newspapers were distributed widely. In January, the government blocked two websites that criticized economic policy. The editor of one of the websites was sentenced to 12 days in jail. In May, the government cut all ties with the media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) following numerous reports by the organizations detailing violations of press freedom. Internet usage remains low, with only an estimated 12% of the population accessing online information on a regular basis.

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