Oppression of free speech escalates

The months after the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest in Azerbaijan have been marked by harassment of independent journalists in the country. Most recently two imprisoned journalists were subjected to inhumane treatment.

Avaz Zeynalli and Hillal Mammadov – two of many journalists incarcerated in Azeri prisons on fabricated charges – are deprived of emergency health care and left to starve for periods at a time, according to reports released by numerous local and international organisations. Ill-treated and neglected of their basic rights, these journalists can´t make their voices heard after the government further tightened its grip on freedom of expression.

“The Azeri authorities’ unabashed threats against journalists and dissidents show not only that the regime lacks all respect for freedom of expression, but also suggest that they do not feel any pressure from abroad on this issue. Politicians from Sweden and other parts of the EU should clearly show that they do not accept the Azeri regime’s human rights violations,” said Joanna Kurosz, Programme Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Civil Rights Defenders.

Merely a week after Eurovision, an adviser to President Ilham Aliyev, Ali Hasanov publicly threatened civil activist and nongovernmental organisations to not “dare appear in society” and encouraged conference attendees to show public hatred toward anyone, who would criticize the government.

A July speech by President Aliyev – branding civil activists as “anti-nationalist forces” and “traitors to the nation” for exposing human rights problems in the country – marked a new era for oppression of free thinkers and civil activists.

Zeynalli and Mammadov are only two out of dozens of journalists, arrested on fabricated and hooliganism charges. Mammadov, the editor of Tolishi Sado, was arrested in June for drug possession. His charges were later changed to high treason and incitement to national, racial, social or religious hatred. Mammadov said he was denied food or water during the first two days of his detention. His predecessor as the editor of the newspaper died in prison in 2009 after being denied medical care. Zeynalli, who is denied health care in spite of a dire necessity, was sentenced to prison on extortion charges on insufficient evidence after a closed-door hearing.

Zeynalli´s and Mammadov´s cases came to the forefront of international attention after repeated requests by international human rights organizations to visit the detainees were denied by Azeri authorities. Heart-wrenching and inhumane, Zeynalli´s and Mammadov´s are only a small part of free speech oppression in Azerbaijan.

Reporters and civil servants are arrested in Azerbaijan on a regular basis, and despite increasing international condemnation and calls for change, Azeri officials remain persistent.
Despite repeated calls from international human rights advocates to stop the harassment of independent reporters and to decriminalize libel, Azeri officials still use civil and criminal libel charges to incarcerate critical voices within the country.

Categories: News.
Tags: Eurovision song contest and Freedom of expression.
Regions: Azerbaijan.