Azerbaijan | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

77

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

30

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

22

Despite constitutional and legal protection for freedom of speech and of the press, media freedom in Azerbaijan continued to decline in 2007. The government has no tolerance for criticism and uses libel suits, unfair trials, physical attacks, and financial pressure to clamp down on opposition media. A draft law on defamation has yet to be adopted. As a result, libel remains a criminal offense, punishable with high fines and up to three years’ imprisonment. Nine journalists were in prison during 2007, including one who had been behind bars since 2006, making Azerbaijan the world’s fifth-ranked jailer of journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Three remained in jail at year’s end. The government wields significant control over the National Television and Radio Council (NTRC), the broadcast watchdog and licenser. The Frequency Commission provides the NTRC with a list of available frequencies to assign, but 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 NTRC.

In the year’s first prosecution of a reporter, Nota Bene journalist Faramaz Allahverdiyev was convicted of libeling the minister of internal affairs and sentenced to two years in prison in January. 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 in prison, respectively. Also that month, 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. Bizim Yol journalist Mushvig Huseynov was arrested in July on bribery charges that he claimed were part of a frame-up, and he remained in pretrial detention for the rest of the year. Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of the Russian-language weekly Realny Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani daily Gundelik Azerbaijan, was sentenced in October to eight and a half years in prison on charges of threatening terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred, and tax evasion. The charges stemmed from an article criticizing Azerbaijan’s relations with Iran. Fatullayev had received a death threat in March, and he was sentenced to 30 months in prison in April for defamation in an internet post he denied writing. His two newspapers were evicted from their offices and closed in May over alleged fire-safety violations, prompting more than two dozen of the papers’ journalists to apply for political asylum abroad. In November, a Baku court sentenced Ideal editor in chief Nazim Guliyev to 30 months in prison for libel, but he was released in December after an appeals court overturned the initial ruling. Also in November, police arrested Azadliq editor in chief Ganimat Zahidov on what he claimed were fabricated charges of hooliganism and inflicting minor bodily harm; he remained in pretrial detention at year’s end. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent Ilgar Nasibov was convicted of libel in December. Although the ruling was overturned just days later, he was immediately sentenced to a year of probation for a separate libel case involving a 2006 Azadliq article he said he did not write.

While journalists in Azerbaijan frequently face prison time, those who carry out physical attacks on them enjoy almost total impunity. There were several reports of violence against journalists in 2007, most of them involving beatings by policemen. Meanwhile, there was no progress in solving crimes committed against journalists in previous years, including the March 2006 kidnapping of Azadliq journalist Fikret Huseynli, a gruesome May 2006 attack on Bizim Yol editor Bahaddin Haziyev, and the 2005 murder of Monitor editor Elmar Huseynov.

Despite the intimidation they face, a relatively large number of opposition and independent media outlets continue to function. However, with distribution channels run by progovernment companies and most newspapers having to use government-owned printing presses, opposition print media are not readily available across the country. The government continues to pressure independent vendors who distribute opposition newspapers. There were a total of 21 television stations and 10 radio stations in 2007. State channels compete with private stations, but those featuring opposition views are not available nationwide. The government has used libel laws to punish critical writing online, and in January 2007 it reportedly blocked access to a website featuring criticism of state economic policy. The site’s creator was sentenced to 12 days in jail for resisting arrest, though he was quickly released on appeal. A satirical site was also blocked that month, and after a brief reappearance it remained blocked at year’s end. Internet usage remains low, with an estimated 13 percent of the population accessing the medium on a regular basis.