Reporters without borders, France
May 3 2004
Azerbaijan – 2004 Annual Report
Area : 86,600 sq.km.
Population : 8,096,000
Language : Azeri
Type of state : republic
Head of state : President Ilham Aliev
Azerbaijan – 2004 Annual Report
The hoped-for wave of reform after Ilham Aliev, son of longtime leader
Heidar Aliev, became president in October 2003 did not come. Opposition
media remained under broad pressure, there was no diversity in
broadcasting and the regime did not fulfil its international
President Heidar Aliev’s son Ilham took office as president on 31
October 2003 after an election denounced as a setback for democracy by
European monitoring organisations. The elder Heidar, who died in a US
clinic on 12 December aged 80, had prepared for the handover by naming
Ilham prime minister during the summer. When his father’s health
worsened, Ilham became acting president and on 2 October his father
withdrew as a candidate for reelection. Media that dared to mention the
old man’s health were punished.
The election campaign, the vote itself on 15 October and the
post-election period brought many press freedom problems. Journalists
were beaten and the government monopolised radio and TV, broadly
harassed opposition and independent newspapers and failed to keep its
international promises to respect press freedom. Journalists were
physically attacked from the summer on while covering election meetings
in Baku and the provinces and more than 50 were set upon during violent
clashes on 15 and 16 October between demonstrators and security forces,
who arrested more than a dozen of them.
Journalists organisations monitoring the campaign, as well as the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in a report,
said the four privately-owned nationwide TV stations all strongly
backed ruling party candidates, as did the state-run AzT, which should
have been turned into an independently-run public body as promised when
Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe in 2001.
A council was set up on 24 January 2003 to see that radio and TV obeyed
the electoral law but its nine members were appointed by the president.
A public TV bill was given a second reading by parliament on 24
December, but it too would allow the government to have a predominant
The highly-politicised opposition and independent media came under
broad and heavy direct and indirect pressure from the authorities – in
access to public data, printing and distribution, advertising,
unjustified use of defamation laws and excessive fines. Journalists
demonstrated several times in the first half of the year against
bureaucratic harassment obstructing them in their work.
The main opposition daily Yeni Musavat was sued for libel more than a
dozen times between October 2002 and October 2003 and fined more than
100,000 euros. The laws on defamation and insults still provided prison
sentences, in conflict with international standards. A Press Council of
nine journalists and six government representatives members was set up
on 15 March to mediate between journalists and citizens, especially the
Yeni Musavat editor Rauf Arifoglu was jailed in late October, accused
of organising the 15 and 16 October demonstrations.
Two journalists imprisoned
Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition daily Yeni Musavat and
vice-president of the opposition Musavat party, was arrested on 27
October 2003 and remanded for three months in Baku’s Bailov prison for
stirring up public unrest (article 220.1 of the criminal code) and for
refusing to obey a police order (article 315.2). He could be sentenced
to up to 12 years imprisonment. He was accused of organising the
rioting that broke out around the country after the 15 October
presidential election. He staged a hunger-strike in prison from 1 to 9
December to demand the release of the 107 people arrested in the
protests and the application of the recommendations of the OSCE
observers’ report on the elections. Deputy prosecutor-general Ramiz
Rzayev said the gravity of the alleged offences, the possibility he
would abscond and also interfere with the investigation justified him
being held pending trial. Arifoglu, one of the regime’s fiercest
critics, had taken refuge in the Norwegian embassy between 18 and 21
October for fear of being kidnapped or physically attacked.
Sadig Ismailov, of the opposition daily Baki Khaber, was arrested in
Baku on 30 December and accused of involvement in the clashes in the
city after the 15 October election. His editor, Aydin Gouliev, said he
had been sent to Azadliq Square on 16 October to cover the
demonstrations. The Nasimi regional court ordered him detained for
three months in Bailov prison on 31 December while the case was being
investigated. He was charged under articles 220.1 and 315 of the
criminal code and faces between three and seven years in jail. There
was no evidence he was being detained because of his work as a
At least 37 journalists arrested
Plainclothes police burst into the premises of the opposition daily
Milliyet in Baku on 23 April 2003 and arrested journalists Tahir
Abbasli and Sarkarda Sakharnova. They were freed a few hours later
after appearing before deputy prosecutor-general Ramiz Rzayev, who gave
them an “official warning” about a photomontage in the paper five days
earlier showing the demolition of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s
statue in Baghdad with President Heidar Aliev’s head on it instead of
Police seized 1,800 copies of the Russian-language edition of the
opposition daily Yeni Musavat on 2 May as they was leaving the
Viza-Media printers in Baku and arrested journalists Azer Aykhan,
Firdovsi Akhmedov and Sayyad Gadirli, as well as three staff of the
printing firm, including its boss, Aliovst Talishkhanly, for publishing
“anti-government” material. The journalists were freed five hours
Police in 10 cars roughly arrested a group of senior journalists on 26
July as they were driving away from the Baku home of Yeni Musavat
editor Rauf Arifoglu on the way to the city’s press club. They included
Arifoglu himself, Aflatun Amashev (president) and Gunduz Takhirli
(member) of the Press Council, Mehman Aliev, head of the Turan
independent news agency, Arif Aliev, president of the press club and
head of the Yeni Nesil trade union, Ganimat Zakhidov, managing editor
of the opposition daily Azadliq, and Yeni Musavat staffers Elkhan
Hasanli, Safar Hummatov, Mirza Zeynalov and Murshud Hasanov. All were
freed an hour and a half later. Police said they had violated traffic
laws and had insulted and hit the police.
The council of the country’s media chiefs and Arifoglu said they had
heard a few days earlier of plans to arrest him. Just before the police
swooped, the heads of the main opposition press and media organisations
had gone to his home to discuss the situation.
Interior minister Ramil Usubov said on 30 July the episode would be
investigated and the police responsible punished. But no action had
been taken by the end of the year.
Rial Jafarli (Azadliq) and Ali Orujev (Milliyet) were arrested on 21
September while covering a meeting of two opposition presidential
candidates, Etibar Mamedov (National Independence Party) and Ali
Kerimly (Popular Front Party), in Lenkoran (south of Baku). Jafarli was
freed five hours later but Orujev was charged with “hooliganism” and
not released until 25 September.
Ali Ismailov (Milliyet) was beaten and briefly detained by police in
the village of Sinjanboyag (120 km north of Baku) on 3 October while
travelling with opposition candidate Issa Gambar.
Elnur Sadigov (Azadliq) was not allowed in a polling station, beaten by
police and held by them for three hours in the northern town of Ganja
on 15 October, the day of the presidential election. Two other
journalists were arrested – Parviz Hashimov (Uch Nogta news agency),
held for three hours in Ganja, and Mushfig Mamedli (the daily Baki
Khaber), who was arrested in Baku.
The Committee to Protect Journalists of Azerbaijan (RUH) said at least
16 journalists were arrested on 15 and 16 October while covering the
election and the next day’s protests. Most were freed on 22 October
after being sentenced to a few days in prison for “disturbing the
peace” or “refusing to obey orders.
Azer Qarachenli, of the weekly Avropa, disappeared between 15 to 21
October. His arrest by masked special police in front of Musavat party
offices in Baku was filmed by the TV station ANS, but the interior
ministry denied for several days he had been arrested. He had been
picked up during anti-regime demonstrations and sentenced to two weeks
in prison. He said he had not been allowed to contact the paper or see
a lawyer and had refused to sign a false statement about the
circumstances of his arrest.
Sayaf Gadoriv and Teymur Imanov, of Yeni Musavat, were arrested on 17
October as they left the paper’s offices.
Ilham Akhundov, founder and editor of the weekly Gyrkh Chirag in
Ali-Bairamly (100 km south of Baku) and a member of the opposition
Popular Front Party, was arrested at his home in the village of Mes on
18 October and two days later sentenced to 10 days in prison for
“hooliganism and using bad language in public.”
Jehyun Askerli, correspondent in Geychay (west of Baku) for Milliyet
and member of the Popular Front Party, was arrested on 19 October and
sentenced to 10 days in jail.
Police arrested Zabil Mugabiloglu, political reporter of the
pro-government daily 525, at the paper’s offices on 20 October and
taken to the Yasamal district court in Baku, where he was jailed for
two weeks for disturbing the peace.
Mustafa Hajibeyli (Yeni Musavat), was arrested on 23 October at his
parents’ home and held for several hours. Interior ministry officials
searched the apartment and took away a video cassette.
At least 99 journalists physically attacked
About 30 men attacked the offices of the opposition daily Yeni Musavat
on 4 May 2003, insulting journalists, threatening to kill editor Rauf
Arifoglu and causing a lot of material damage. They demanded an end to
articles about President Aliev’s health and to criticism of the
government. Assistant managing editor Gabil Abbasoglu, and journalists
Elshad Pashasoy, Samir Azizoglu and Khalid Kazimli were injured. The
staff, who had expected such an attack, had asked for police protection
after government officials had called for the paper to be “punished”
and the government press had called them “enemies of the country.” The
officials accused the paper of calling for Aliev’s resignation because
of his poor health. Editor Arifoglu said police protection, begun three
days earlier, had been withdrawn two hours before the attack. Three of
the attackers were jailed for between three and five days for
Reporters Shafayat Salah (Turan news agency), Azer Ahmadov and Sahib
Ismaylov (the opposition daily Azadliq) and Elshad Memedov (the
opposition daily Khurriyet) were beaten up by police while covering a
meeting of the Popular Front Party in Baku on 24 May.
Elshad Pashasoy (Yeni Musavat), Alim Huseynov (the daily Olaylar),
Ramil Huseynov (the news agency Bilik Dunyasi), Perviz Heshimov (the
weekly Politika), Rauf Mirkadyrov (the daily Zerkalo), Abbaseli
Rustemli, Ruslan Beshirov, Ramiz Necefli, Ali Rza (all of Azadliq) and
Tapdiq Ferhadoglu (Turan) were beaten by police on 27 May while
covering a meeting of the Popular Front Party in front of the
parliament building in Baku.
Parviz Peshmili (Politika) Natig Zeynalov (Radio Free Europe / Radio
Liberty) and Nijat Daglar and Tahir Tagiyev (both of Khurriyet) were
beaten and insulted by police during a protest by opposition parties in
front of parliament on 3 June.
Mushfig Hajiyev, cameraman with the independent TV station ANS, was
attacked on 18 July by Lazim Mirzoyev, a government official in the
village of Karmachatag (in Nakichevan), who tried to seize his camera.
ANS reporter Natella Mahmudova, Kamala Surkhaygizi (Radio Free Europe /
Radio Liberty) and Malahat Nasibova (Turan), who were there with
Hajiyev to report on clashes with the Armenian army, were also set upon
and chased out of the village. Mirzoyev said he had been ordered to
keep the journalists away from the village.
Nasibova, Mahmudova and Hajiyev were beaten and insulted by police and
government officials in the village of Sadarak (Nakichevan) on 3
September while seeking information about complaints by inhabitants
against the behaviour of the local authorities. They were called spies
and traitors and ordered out of the village.
A dozen journalists and several members of the Popular Front Party were
beaten by police, including deputy police chief Yashar Aliev, as they
gathered in front of Baku police headquarters on 8 September while
opposition presidential election candidate Fuad Mustafayev was being
questioned there. Film taken by Internews was seized. Among the
journalists involved were Khalig Bakhadur (Azadliq), Azer Rashidoglu
and Metin Yasharoglu (Zerkalo), Hadija Ismailova (the daily Ekho), Rey
Kerimoglu (the paper Milli Yol), Mirjavad Ragimli (Space TV), Sukhur
Abdullayev (the daily Bu Gyun), Manaf Guliev (Internews cameraman) and
Hagani Safaroglu (Avropa). The Committee to Protect Journalists of
Azerbaijan (RUH) filed a complaint against deputy police chief Aliev on
Irada Nureddingyzy (the opposition daily Milliyet), Nigyar Almangyzy
(the daily Express), Samira Zamanly (Khurriyet), Taptig Farhadoglu
(Turan) and Zaur Rasulzade (of the Russian-language daily Novoye
Vremya) were clubbed and stoned by police and civilians at a meeting
held by two opposition presidential candidates that police were trying
to disperse in Masaly (south of Baku) on 21 September. Zamanly was
knocked out by one of the stones.
Thugs beat people attending a meeting on 2 October held by presidential
candidates Etibar Mamedov and Ali Kerimli in the Saatli region (200 km
west of Baku) with wooden and metal objects. Among the victims were
Aflatun Guliev (editor) and Ali Orudjev (reporter) of Milliyet.
Guliev’s nose and several teeth were broken.
Fierce clashes with security forces erupted on the evening of election
day, 15 October, as thousands of people demonstrated outside the Baku
offices of the opposition party Musavat and continued the next day on
the city’s Azadliq Square. The RUH said at least 54 journalists had
been attacked over the two days. They included :
Sahil Kerimli (Lider TV), attacked by a crowd in Baku on 15 October ;
Kenul Salimgizi, Safar Humbatov, Murshud Hasanov and Salim Azizoglu
(all of Yeni Musavat), roughed up at polling station 25 in Baku and
Fahraddin Hajibeyli (Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty), beaten by
polling station officials in Agdam (350 km from Baku).
On 16 October, at least 26 journalists were beaten up by security
forces in Azadliq Square. They included : Ilkin Guliev, Zafar Guliev
(who received head injuries) and Emin Huseynov (a brain injury), all of
Turan ; Alexander Klimchuk (of the Georgian daily Tribuna) ; Sabina
Iskenderli and Fuad Hasanguliyev (who was hospitalised with head
inujuries), both of the Interfax-Azerbaijan news agency ; Agil Jamal
and Hayal Babayev (Azadliq) ; Azer Hasret, secretary-general of the
journalists’ organisation JuHi ; Shirhan Agayev (the daily Prognoz) ;
Sarkarda Sarkhanoglu, Tebriz Sadayoglu, Nabi Alishev, Adil Huseynov and
Tahir Aliyaroglu (all of Khurriyet). The last three were hospitalised
with head injuries ; Kenul Velieva, Metanet Muslimgizi and Nijat
Daglar, who was hospitalised with serious injuries ; Vasim Mamedov (the
daily Baki Khaber), hospitalised with head injuries ; Eynulla Umudov
and Etibar Savalan (the paper Galanjak Gun) ; Elza Abishova
(hospitalised), Mansura Sattarova, Lala Musa Gizi, Afgan Gafarov and
Kenan Rovshanoglu (all of the daily Cumhurriyet). The interior ministry
launched an enquiry into possible police brutality. But the authorities
said right away that most of the journalists were not covering the
protests but participating in them as opposition activists.
Harassment and obstruction
Several journalists and human rights activists staged a hunger-strike
from 22 to 28 January 2003 to protest against legalistic harassment of
the opposition daily Yeni Musavat and draw world attention to press
freedom violations in the country. Editor Rauf Arifoglu pointed to the
13 prosecutions of the paper by the authorities in just a few months
and to the threats made to its journalists. Participants included
Yadigar Mamedli (president of the Democratic League of Journalists),
Mehman Aliev (head of the Turan news agency), Ganimat Zakhidov
(president of the Azad Soz Journalists’ Union), Azer Hasret
(secretary-general of the Azerbaijan Journalists’ Confederation), Zahid
Gazanfaroglu (Yeni Musavat), Zohrab Ismayil (publisher of the
opposition daily Azadliq), Asif Marazli (editor of the weekly
Tazadlar), Mohammed Arsoy (member of the Azad Soz Journalists’ Union)
and Sanan Hasanoglu (editor of the diaspora magazine Compatriot).
Baku city authorities shut down on 28 January a newsstand run by the
Gaya distribution firm in front of the university which sold opposition
papers unavailable at the government newsstands. They said it was for
reasons of “urban improvement,” but a nearby state newsstand remained
A court in Yasamal (Baku) fined Elmar Husseynov, founder and editor of
the weekly Monitor, 4,600 euros on 4 April (under articles 147.2 and
148 of the criminal code) for libelling and insulting the honour and
dignity of Hasan Zeynalov, head of the Baku office of the autonomous
republic of Nakhichevan, in an article called “The Godfather” (in its
second issue of 2003) which compared the inhabitants of the republic
with Sicilians. Zeynalov also sued in a civil court, which awarded him
19,000 euros in damages on 25 February and ordered a denial to be
published. The editor was amnestied on 12 May for the criminal
The independent weekly Bizim Yol was extensively harassed after it was
founded in March. Police seized copies on 20 April from four vendors in
Nizami (Baku) who were taken to a police station and questioned before
being freed. Editor Mohammed Arsoy said the seizure was because the
previous number contained a cartoon of President Aliev astride a donkey
with his son Ilham holding its tail. More copies were confiscated in
Baku the next day. All printers refused to print the paper on 11 May,
on the orders of the authorities. On 17 May, three unidentified men
stopped a van carrying 4,000 copies, threatened and insulted the driver
and took away all the papers. The magazine was forced to close after
six issues, but its journalists launched a new paper, Milli Yol, in
June. Its offices were vandalised on 10 August and computer equipment
damaged. In September and October, assistant editor Shahin Agabeyli was
summoned and reprimanded several times by the deputy prosecutor-general
for printing cartoons of government ministers. Presidential candidate
and member of parliament Gudrat Hasanguliyev threatened its journalists
in early October with reprisals if the paper continued to insult him.
The independent printers Chap Evi refused to print the paper from 15
The head of Baku’s metro railway system, Tagi Ahmedov, said on 21 April
that the quarterly newspaper distribution agreements with the firms
Said and Mars-3 would only be renewed if they stopped handling
opposition papers such as Azadliq, Yeni Musavat, Khurriyet and
Milliyet. He said they printed inaccurate news about President Aliev’s
health. The firms refused to comply and in mid-May, distribution
resumed as normal.
The prosecutor-general’s office accused opposition papers Yeni Musavat,
Khurriyet, Azadliq and Milliyet on 6 May of breaking the media laws by
printing reports about President Aliev that violated journalistic
The president’s brother Jalal told parliament on 13 May, after stories
appeared about the president’s health, that journalists who criticised
the head of state should be stripped of their accreditation to cover
At least 25 newspaper street-vendors were arrested in Baku on 16 and 17
May and thousands of copies of Azadliq, Yeni Musavat, Milliyet and
Monitor seized on the orders of city police chief Maharram Aliev.
A Baku court sentenced Yashar Agazade (reporter) and Rovshan Kebirli
(publisher) of the weekly Mukhalifat to five months in prison on 21 May
for libelling President Aliev’s brother Jalal in a 14 April article
saying he headed a gang that monopolised the country’s grain market.
They were both pardoned immediately.
Columnist Rauf Mirkadyrov, of the Russian-language daily Zerkalo, was
fined 82,500 manats (15 euros) on 7 July for being drunk and trying to
hit Baku mayor Hajikala Abutalibov. The journalist said he had simply
asked the mayor who was in charge of work done on a city building and
had then been set upon by police.
Justice minister Fikret Mamadov accused the media on 26 July of trying
to destabilise the country before the 15 October presidential election
and said he would act against those that defied the ban on undermining
the president’s “honour and dignity.” The warning was repeated the same
day by prosecutor-general Zakir Garalov. The day before, interior
minister Ramil Usubov had accused opposition media of printing
libellous and insulting material. A few days earlier, Yeni Musavat and
other opposition papers had written about the illness of the president,
who was hospitalised in Turkey on 8 July.
Elnur Sadigov, a correspondent for Azadliq, said on 27 August he had
been expelled from the state university in the northwestern town of
Ganja, where he was a student, because he had been detained for a week
in May for writing critical articles.
On the day of the 15 October presidential election, three journalists
were barred from polling stations – Firudin Guliyev (Garbin Sesi) by
police in Shemakha (120 km from Baku), Vidadi Bayramov (Khurriyet), who
was insulted in Salyan (140 km from Baku), and Abbasali Rustamli
(Azadliq) in Sabail (Baku).
The same day, seven journalists were insulted by polling officials.
They were Aslan Abdullayev (Molla Nasreddin), by the polling station
chief in Ujar (200 km from Baku) ; Matanat Alieva (Impuls), at station
22 in Nasimi (Baku) ; Eynulla Garayev (Fedai), in Ujar ; Medina Aliyev
(freelance), at station 38 in Baku ; Tahir Pasha (head of the
Association of Military Journalists) and Mubariz Jafarli and Mahir
Mamedli (both of Yeni Musavat), at station 15 in Sabail (Baku).
During the week after protest demonstrations on 15 and 16 October,
journalists from opposition papers Azadliq, Yeni Musavat, Khurriyet,
Baki Khaber and Yeni Zaman/Novoye Vremya were barred from parliament.
Tens of thousands of copies of Yeni Musavat, Azadliq, Khurriyet and
Baki Khaber were seized from newsstands in Baku and in the provinces on
17 and 18 October.
Two days after the election, on 17 October, the state printers refused
to print Azadliq, Yeni Musavat, Baki Khaber, Khurriyet and Yeni
Zaman/Novoye Vremya. Yeni Musavat business manager Azer Ahyan said the
firm said its workers had refused to handle the papers because they
were pro-opposition and that anyway the newspapers owed too much money.
However, the firm continued to print other (pro-government) papers also
in debt to the firm.
The five opposition papers failed to appear between 14 and 20 November
when Chap Evi, the only privately-owned printers that agreed to print
them, ran out of paper. The editors accused the authorities of creating
an artificial newsprint shortage by doubling the price of it.
Tax inspectors turned up unannounced at the offices of Milliyet on 22
October and seized four computers, as well as photos and
tape-recordings. They filmed the premises and said they were looking
for firearms. The computers were returned two days later.
Member of parliament Omaliya Panakhova told a press conference on 27
October that journalists who criticised the government “should be
A close aide of the prosecutor-general warned Turan editor Mehman Aliev
on 28 October for reporting that elections board members who refused to
sign false voting tallies had come under official pressure.
Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press
freedom throughout the world, as well as the right to inform the public
and to be informed, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. Reporters Without Borders has nine
national sections (in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain,
Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), representatives in
Abidjan, Bangkok, Istanbul, Montreal, Moscow, New York, Tokyo and
Washington and more than a hundred correspondents worldwide.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress