Azerbaijan goes to the polls amid muzzled media and blocked websites – CPJ

11:31 • 07.04.18

By Gulnoza Said/CPJ Europe and Central Asia Research Associate

Committee to Protect Journalists

When it comes to silencing critics, Azerbaijani authorities have been industrious and methodical. Ahead of snap presidential elections scheduled for April 11, potential opposition candidates have been either jailed or barred from running, and the political landscape has been cleansed of virtually all formal
avenues of expressing dissent.

Throwing journalists in jail, abducting them from abroad, accusing them of financial misdeeds, blocking websites, hacking social media accounts, imposing travel bans: this is not an exhaustive list of the tactics Ilham Aliyev's government has used to try to ensure the independent media are muzzled and critical voices silenced.

Azerbaijan ranks among the worst jailers of journalists in the world, with at least 10 behind bars on December 1, 2017, when CPJ conducted its annual prison census. But international pressure on Baku has had some impact.

Mehman Aliyev, who heads Turan, the last independent news agency in Azerbaijan, told CPJ he thinks that pressure from the US and international outcry over his arrest in August on tax evasion charges played a key role in his release.

Senator Richard Durbin introduced an amendment to the FY2018 State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill which instructed the State Department to bar Azerbaijani officials from entering the US if they were involved in Aliyev's wrongful imprisonment.

Speaking to CPJ from Baku, Aliyev (no relation to the country's president) said, "Senator Durbin's amendment as well as pressure from other senators, including Marco Rubio, John McCain and Patrick Leahy, were directly responsible for my release."

Aliyev added, "The amendment was passed on September 7. I had a court hearing the following day. When the authorities heard of the amendment, the security services told me President Aliyev had just heard about my case and was concerned."

His early release on September 11--and that of Kanal 13 manager Aziz Orujov, who according to reports was freed on April 5 after the Supreme Court handed down a suspended sentence--are the first releases since May 2016 when prominent investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova and several others were set free after international advocacy efforts, including by CPJ.

Although Turan continues to operate, Aliyev said that its staff of 15, including seven Baku-based reporters, are too few to cover the country of nearly 10 million.

"The situation is very difficult," Aliyev said. "We are the only ones left. They haven't destroyed us yet because the amendment is still there."

Many of the country's journalists choose to live and broadcast from abroad to avoid arrest or harassment, but Azerbaijan authorities have tried to silence independent voices beyond its borders.

In May 2017, prominent investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli disappeared in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he was living in exile with his family. He emerged two days later in a border detention center in Azerbaijan. On January 12, a Balakan district court sentenced Mukhtarli to six years in prison on charges of illegally crossing the border, bringing contraband with him, and resisting authorities, according to CPJ research. Reports in early April said the journalist's health is deteriorating. Mukhtarli's appeal against the sentence has been postponed repeatedly in a move that some activists said they believe is to ensure the hearing is not held until after the election.

Previously a safe haven for many of Azerbaijan's opposition members and independent journalists, neighboring Georgia had started to feel dangerous as rumors spread about Georgian law enforcement allegedly collaborating with their Azerbaijani counterparts in Mukhtarli's case. Officials in Tbilisi said they would investigate the journalist's case, but as of early April no further updates have been made public. Mukhtarli's wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, also a freelance journalist, said in an interview with the Rory Peck Trust in February that "press freedom in our country steps backwards and further backwards each year." Fearing for her safety, Mustafayeva said she had to seek refuge in Germany.

"No place feels safe anymore," said Fikret Huseynli, head of the Amsterdam bureau of opposition-leaning online television channel Turan TV (a separate organization from the Turan news agency). Huseynli, who has lived in the Netherlands since 2008 and has citizenship there, covers the activities of the Azerbaijani opposition in exile and suspected corruption in the Azerbaijani government. He has also been critical of the president.

Huseynli told CPJ that his perception of safety beyond Azerbaijan's borders changed after he visited Ukraine in October 2017 to explore opportunities for opening a Turan TV bureau in Kiev. Huseynli was about to board a plane when Ukrainian border service detained him "while Azeri-speaking men were watching," he said. He was released on bail on October 27 but Ukraine's prosecutor general's office confiscated his passport. Then, on March 5--two hours after Huseynli spoke with CPJ--unknown men attacked the journalist in the Kiev apartment he was renting.

On April 2, a judge ruled against extraditing the journalist and said he should be allowed to move freely. However, earlier that day a Kiev prosecutor took Huseynli's passport from a court secretary and has refused to hand it back, according to reports. Huseynli is due to appear before a Kiev court again on April 12--one day after Azerbaijan's election.

The Azerbaijani government also tried to file a criminal defamation complaintagainst two French journalists after one of them called Azerbaijan a "dictatorship" in a broadcast. A French court rejected the defamation complaint in November, according to reports.

Critical journalists who remain active inside the country face daily restrictions. Since her release from prison nearly two years ago, Ismayilova has had her bank accounts frozen and her electricity and internet connections cut when she tries to participate in international conferences or accept prizes via Skype, according to media reports and her social media posts. Ismayilova's appeals to lift her travel ban were denied, and authorities prevented her from traveling to Turkey to see her mother before she died in early March.

When contacted by CPJ for comment about conditions for the press Mushfig Aleskerli, deputy chairman of Azerbaijan's Press Council, asked for questions to be sent via email, but as of April 5 the self-regulatory media authority known for its pro-government stance, had not responded to the emailed questions.

The government sometimes offers a "carrot" approach to the press, including a program the president launched in 2013 to give free apartments to journalists. The program has been criticized by observers and journalists as an attempt to buy loyalty.

Aliyev from the Turan news agency, told CPJ he has been approached to nominate reporters for free apartments but repeatedly refuses to do so. He said being given an apartment is the equivalent to being handed a bribe and goes against professional ethics. Aliyev added that there are no economic incentives for new independent media outlets to spring up in Azerbaijan.

"The authorities created an environment in which no media outlet can survive without government subsidies. If there is any media start-up that hopes to float without government funding, solely on advertising, it will either die out on its own or the government will strangle it," he said.

With the election just a few days away, Alex Raufoglu, a Washington, D.C.-based Azerbaijani journalist who contributes to Turan, told CPJ more pressure should be put on Baku.

"The international community should not only continue putting strong pressure on Aliyev's regime but step it up ahead of the elections, because once re-elected for another seven-year term--and I see no obstacles to that - Aliyev will listen to his foreign partners even less," Raufoglu said.



LATEST NEWSAll Today news

17:50 • 23/09

Armenian troops' plan to join Syria peacekeepers 'threatens new level of international isolation'

17:43 • 23/09

World's biggest election loser runs for 96th time in Canada

17:28 • 23/09

Prime minister optimistic about 'examplary elections'

15:21 • 23/09

US sanctions driving Russian billionaires into Putin’s arms

15:02 • 23/09

Britain's Labour Party backs new election to solve Brexit

14:40 • 23/09

Kim Kardashian cheers on daughter North in her first runway show as tot models PVC and red lipstick

14:27 • 23/09

Cyclist escapes with his life after car driven by joyrider

14:04 • 23/09

Al Pacino’s new girlfriend is half his age  

13:34 • 23/09

US Open 2018: Naomi Osaka beaten by Karolina Pliskova in Pan Pacific Open final

12:33 • 23/09

Meghan Markle reveals her first datign dress was 'something blue'

11:43 • 23/09

Moody’s pegs Florence’s economic cost at $38b to $50b

11:12 • 23/09

We need to be accustomed to normal voting practices in Armenia – Nikol Pashinyan

10:47 • 23/09

Maldives election: Voting begins in controversial poll

10:14 • 23/09

Yerevan conducts snap city council elections today

09:13 • 23/09

Iran blames Gulf rivals for deadly attack

17:38 • 21/09

US-Armenian artist Tigran Tsitoghdzyan opens exhibition in Istanbul

17:03 • 21/09

Armenia must declare 'last ever amnesty', revising life-termers’ cases – opinion  

16:07 • 21/09

Aguero extends Man City deal until 2021

15:54 • 21/09

Queen Elizabeth put Meghan Markle through fertility tests before wedding with Prince Harry

15:45 • 21/09

Armenia celebrating independence in exceptional conditions today  – Robert Kocharyan

15:21 • 21/09

Japanese probe about to drop hopping robots onto asteroid Ryugu

15:09 • 21/09

We proved that dreams can come true – President Sarkissian congratulates Armenians on independence day  

14:51 • 21/09

Inside Anthony Bourdain's $3.7m apartment as his estranged wife puts it on the market three months after the celebrity chef took his own life

14:32 • 21/09

Tbilisi TV tower features Armenian tricolor (video)

14:17 • 21/09

Artsakh President congratulates Armenian PM on independence anniversary

14:04 • 21/09

Independence day marked at Yerablur pantheon (photos)

13:25 • 21/09

Theresa May snubbed by Merkel as German leader ignores UK PM at Salzburg summit

12:30 • 21/09

Russians suspected of Skripal poisoning previously detained in The Netherlands — Bellingcat

12:07 • 21/09

Zhamanak: CSTO sending clear messages to Armenia

11:13 • 21/09

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang dies

10:51 • 21/09

Armenia celebrates 27th anniversary of independence today

09:29 • 21/09

US imposes sanctions on China over Russian weapons purchase

18:10 • 20/09

Azerbaijan continues crackdown on civil society – Human Rights Watch

17:57 • 20/09

Cary Fukunaga to direct next James Bond movie

17:47 • 20/09

President Sarkissian visits Chinese Embassy in Yerevan

17:30 • 20/09

Zurich Protocols will 'never return' to Turkey's politcal agenda

16:55 • 20/09

European court orders Armenian government to pay €20,600 over violations in March 1 criminal case

16:50 • 20/09

No hasty plans to arrange Pashinyan-Trump meeting, says foreign minister

12:25 • 20/09

Ucom to offer more affordable roaming rate to subscribers visiting Russia

11:31 • 20/09

Adam Schiff and 8 US lawmakers urge Gov Brown to sign Turkey divestment bill

11:08 • 20/09

$60m worth digital currencies stolen from Japanese exchange

09:47 • 20/09

Zhoghovurd: Catholicos of All Armenians to step down 'for health reasons'  

09:28 • 20/09

US 'ready' to restart talks with North Korea

09:11 • 20/09

Japan foreign minister planning to discuss peace treaty with Russia’s Lavrov

18:13 • 19/09

Contract serviceman fatally wounded in Armenia’s north-east

17:50 • 19/09

Dunja Mijatović: Legal incapacity of individuals with disabilities 'challenge to their rights' in Armenia

16:18 • 19/09

IBM launches AI bias detector

15:52 • 19/09

Kocharyan explains reasons behind ‘political comeback’

15:08 • 19/09

Azerbaijan, Russia conduct joint drills in Caspian Sea

13:07 • 19/09

The Weeknd sued 'for at least $5m' for 'stealing' his hit song Starboy from another artist

12:36 • 19/09

EU 'ready to improve' Irish border deal

12:09 • 19/09

Trump hails 'exciting' agreements by North Korean leader

12:05 • 19/09

Turkish workers arrested after Istanbul airport protests  

11:30 • 19/09

Trump considers request for US military base in Poland

11:18 • 19/09

Jessica Simpson expecting third baby

11:06 • 19/09

Facebook accused of gender discrimination in job adss

10:34 • 19/09

We are ready for negotiations but must be prepared for war, prime minister says in Artsakh

09:24 • 19/09

Pentagon lists Russia, China as biggest threats to US

09:13 • 19/09

North and South Koreas ‘commit to era of no wars’

17:56 • 18/09

Armenian khachkar unveiled in Polish city

17:05 • 18/09

Armenian parliament official briefs PACE committee on Azerbaijani aggression against Armenian civilian settlements

16:55 • 18/09

Ucom doubles inclusions of uDaily prepay mobile internet service

16:35 • 18/09

Former Liverpool defender forced to retire with motor neurone disease just months after marrying England women's captain 

16:22 • 18/09

Armenia, China sign deal to facilitate air communication

15:40 • 18/09

Trump orders release of classified documents in Russia probe

15:24 • 18/09

Armenian government delegation conducts visit to Nagorno-Karabakh

14:51 • 18/09

Central Bank chief re-elected president of interstate bank council

14:40 • 18/09

Armenian defense minister meets with FAST foundation president

14:08 • 18/09

NASA's new spacecraft captures photo of more than a dozen celestial objects known to host exoplanets in stunning 'first light' image

13:45 • 18/09

Pakistan's austerity car auction falls short, new PM commutes by helicopter

13:25 • 18/09

Armenian family’s 400-year-old musical secret still rings true

13:17 • 18/09

Russia blames Israel for downing of plane, vows retaliation

12:45 • 18/09

Chief architect of Yerevan sacked

12:25 • 18/09

Republic Square selected as 'hot spot' of independence day events to symbolize success in ‘Velvet Revolution’

11:26 • 18/09

Libarman’s visit to Baku signals strengthening Azerbaijani-Israeli relations

11:09 • 18/09

Zhoghovurd: OSCE to turn closer spotlight on situation along Karabakh frontline

10:35 • 18/09

Russian military plane disappears during Israeli strikes on Latakia with 14 people on board

10:13 • 18/09

Zhamanak: Putin planning meeting with former presidents in Yerevan

09:56 • 18/09

SpaceX unveils first Moon Loop tourist

09:51 • 18/09

Sean Penn Calls #MeToo Movement ‘Receptacle of the Salacious’

09:44 • 18/09

Florence leaves 'monumental disaster' for North Carolina

09:31 • 18/09

Magnitude 1.9 earthquake hits Armenia’s south

09:13 • 18/09

SpaceX signs first private moon customer

09:12 • 18/09

Russia and Turkey agree to create buffer zone in Syria's Idlib

19:40 • 17/09

Facts, figures, and Results: Zvartnots International Airport reports details on its activity and not օnly

17:53 • 17/09

French actor Gerard Depardieu 'wants' to acquire Turkish citizenship

17:35 • 17/09

New head of OSCE Mission to Skopje takes office

17:23 • 17/09

Ukraine's Poroshenko terminates Treaty of Friendship with Russia

16:38 • 17/09

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 reportedly catches fire in user’s purse  

16:05 • 17/09

Zohrab Mnatsakanyan: Nagorno-Karabakh is not just conflict for Armenia

15:17 • 17/09

Turkish Coast Guard rescues 16 migrants as boat capsizes

14:46 • 17/09

Yerevan hosts 11th Armrobotics Championship

12:46 • 17/09

Britain’s oldest person reveals secret of longevity  

12:33 • 17/09

Arthur Abraham takes part in 45th BMW Berlin Marathon

12:02 • 17/09

Penelope Cruz dazzles in elegant one-shoulder gown as she joins husband Javier Bardem for LA screening of Loving Pablo

11:34 • 17/09

Armenian, Artsakh foreign ministers meet in Stepanakert

11:10 • 17/09

Turkey to increase troops in Turkish Cyprus

10:43 • 17/09

Elon Musk says Tesla now in 'delivery logistics hell'

10:14 • 17/09

Azerbaijan's armed forces open fire on Armenia’s south from Nakhicehvan

09:51 • 17/09

As Trump and Mattis clash in public, officials question how long he'll last at the Pentagon