Europe shows support for Azerbaijan’s threatened independent media
Amnesty International members across Europe took to the streets on Monday, in a show of support for Azerbaijan’s independent media, which is coming under increasing pressure from the authorities. The United Kingdom, Germany and Turkey were among the countries joining in the day of action, which is part of the organization’s solidarity campaign with independent journalists and human rights activists in Azerbaijan. The action comes as Azerbaijan’s parliament (the Milli Mejlis) prepares to discuss -- on Tuesday -- legislative changes affecting the registration and financing of independent media and civil society. If adopted, the changes will increase the government’s control and scrutiny of the activities of journalists and human rights activists and will undermine their ability to monitor abuses and hold the authorities to account. They could also limit the access to the country for representatives of international human rights organisations. "The introduction of restrictive legislation and the banning of foreign radio broadcasters are some of the methods that the authorities in Azerbaijan are using to muzzle the media there," said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International. "Independent journalists are being intimidated, arrested and sent to prison after unfair trials. Attacks on and even murder of independent journalists remain unresolved." Emin Hüseynov, head of the country's media watchdog Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) said that, if voted through by parliament, the legislative changes would pave the way for the closure of independent media and organizations that stand for freedom of expression. The Amnesty International document, Azerbaijan: Independent Journalists Under Siege, lists cases illustrative of the range of human rights abuses that journalists in Azerbaijan have been subjected to in recent years and months. -- The police allegedly beat up Emin Hüseynov (of the IRFS) on several occasions. -- Aqil Xalil from Azadliq newspaper was stabbed in the chest and later physically attacked again in 2008. Although the authorities claimed they had found a perpetrator; Aqil Xalil and Azerbaijani human rights organizations believe that the true assailants have escaped justice. -- Elmar Hüseynov, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Monitor, was shot dead in 2005. Four years on, no one has been brought to justice. -- Qanimat Zahid and Eynulla Fatullayev are in prison after unfair trials for their peaceful journalistic work. Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release. "President Ilham Aliyev has declared that the state should protect the rights of all journalists. It is high time that the authorities of Azerbaijan match their words as well as international obligations with deeds," Nicola Duckworth said. As the urgent first step, Amnesty International called upon the Milli Mejlis not to pass any amendments that could be used, in effect, to prevent the legitimate activities of media and civil society organizations. The organization said that the country should bring its existing legislation and practice into line with the government’s international obligations. "A society without an independent media and civil society is a voiceless society. Its members are easy prey for human rights violations," said Nicola Duckworth. Watch a video of Amnesty International members presenting a petition to the Azerbaijani embassy.