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Azerbaijan Plan to Block Foreign Radio Major Step Backward
A plan by Azerbaijan's government to suspend international radio broadcasts from local frequencies early next year would deal a serious blow to the country's already dismal press freedom record. The change, expected to take place January 1, would prevent most Azeri citizens from accessing news broadcasts from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the BBC and Voice of America.
Azerbaijan's National Television and Radio Council is moving ahead with the plan citing a 2002 law that reserves local frequencies for Azerbaijani broadcasters, limiting international outlets to satellite, cable and internet, which few Azeris can access. Freedom House's annual Freedom of the Press report indicates that the effort is the latest step in a long-standing campaign to silence critics. Journalists in Azerbaijan are routinely imprisoned, attacked and subject to criminal libel suits, while crimes perpetrated against journalists, including murder, usually go unpunished. Azerbaijan's authorities noticeably increased repressive measures against journalists in the run-up to October’s presidential elections.
"For the past five years, Freedom House has documented an alarming decline in press freedom in Azerbaijan, with the country's authorities distinguishing themselves as some of the world's most regressive on safeguarding press freedom," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "This proposal by Azerbaijan's National Television and Radio Council risks further alienating the country from the international community."
Azerbaijan's huge oil and gas revenues allow President Ilham Aliyev to maintain a firm grip in power and silence most critics. His country is among a number of "petro-authoritarian states" in the former Soviet Union that have seen democratic declines in conjunction with ballooning oil and gas wealth.
As a result, corruption is deeply entrenched in Azeri society with Freedom House research indicating that it is increasing as vast proceeds from the country’s energy industry flow into the government’s coffers, creating new and more expansive opportunities for graft. Corruption flourishes in societies where the media is controlled and citizens are unable to openly discuss the use and management of public resources.
"Blocking the broadcasts of Radio Liberty, The BBC and VOA would be a huge step backward in an environment that already suffers from a lack of credible, independent information," said Christopher Walker, Freedom House director of studies. "Azeri society will suffer as corruption becomes more deeply entrenched due to the country's increasingly non-transparent and unaccountable governance."
Azerbaijan is ranked Not Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Azerbaijan since 1990.
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