Web Desk February 17, 2021

Restrictions imposed in Azerbaijan in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic have created additional problems for the media. Strict quarantine rules have been applied in Azerbaijan since March 2020 in connection with the pandemic. The compliance of the application of these rules with laws has been highly controversial. Because local legislation allows the application of such strict measures in the event of a state of emergency. A state of emergency was not declared in Azerbaijan. In general, it can be noted that the media and the working environment of journalists in Azerbaijan have been severely affected by the application of strict quarantine measures.

 

The application of quarantine rules was accompanied by serious violations against the media and journalists. In at least 15 cases, journalists with licenses working in specific media outlets were prosecuted for violating quarantine rules or were not allowed to perform their professional activity freely. Saadat Jahangir, an employee of the Azadlig newspaper (azadliq.info) that has strong opposition content, has twice faced violations. She was once taken to the police station and interrogated. Previously, the journalist was administratively fined for violating quarantine rules. Natig Isbatov, an employee of the 7gun.az news portal, was detained in the course of his professional activity, taken to the police station, and administratively arrested. Sevinj Sadigova, an employee of the azel.tv news portal, was also detained and released after receiving an official warning. Ibrahim Vazirov, an employee of Kanal24 Internet TV, Mirsahib Rahiloglu, an employee of reportyor.info, and independent journalists Elgun Ganjimsoy and Ismayil Islamoglu (twice) were also punished for violating quarantine rules. They were administratively arrested.

 

Physical pressures

 

In Azerbaijan in 2020, journalists were physically assaulted at least 26 times. Such incidents occurred mainly when journalists were gathering information from mass rallies and protests.

 

In the first months of 2020, it is noticeable that journalists were more exposed to physical pressures. Parliamentary elections were held in Azerbaijan in February. Journalists who gathered information from post-election protests were targeted. Most of the journalists who gathered information from the rally in front of the Central Election Commission in early February were obstructed and, in some cases, subjected to violence. Independent journalists Aynur Elgunash and Sevinj Vagifgizi and the head of the basta.com website, Mustafa Hajibeyli, were injured in the incident. A total of 13 journalists, including journalists Aytaj Tapdig, Aygun Rashid, Nurlan Gahramanli, Mehman Huseynov, were obstructed – they were not allowed to film, they were forcibly put on a bus and taken to the outskirts of the city. During the election process, journalists gathering information in Baku, Mingachevir, and Lankaran were physically assaulted at least 8 times.

 

In women’s march calling for an end to violence against women in Baku on March 8, employees of Meydan TV, Izolda Aghayeva, Aysel Umudova, a journalist of Toplum TV, Zarifa Novruz, correspondents of Turan News Agency, Aziz Karimov and Tatyana Kryuchkina, Fargana Novruzova (azadliq.info), Nargiz Abdsalamova (Mikroskop Media), Samira Ali (anews.az) were subjected to pressure.

 

On March 18, in the protest made by a group of citizens in front of the Turkish Embassy in Azerbaijan, a photo and video operator of RFE / RL, Ramin Deko, was beaten and his professional tools were confiscated. Freelancers Tabriz Mirzayev, Nurlan Gahramanli, Avaz Hafizli, Teymur Karimov, Sevinj Sadigova, and others also faced physical pressure and received various injuries. Zaur Ganbarov, an employee of the anews.az news website, was beaten in a government body while performing his professional activities.

 

Non-physical pressures

 

In 2020, there were at least 37 incidents involving Internet resources and those working on those resources. The basta.info website, which is close to opposition political parties, as well as basta.info’s resources in other domains, have been under attack throughout the year. The website has been repeatedly destroyed and access has been blocked. The resource’s social media pages were also attacked.

 

Access to the websites of critical independent media outlets, RFE / RL, Azadlig newspaper, Azerbaycan Saati program, Meydan TV, and Turan Internet TV, which were blocked by a court decision in 2017, remained closed. At the same time, the Plenum of the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan annulled all court decisions related to these media and decided to reconsider the case. The initiator of the closure of the websites is the Ministry of Communications. The ministry is now demanding that not only the websites of the five media outlets but also all Internet resources that disseminate the content of those media outlets be blocked.

 

The websites of Turan News Agency, which is known for its independent position, at turan.az and contact.az have faced constant cyber attacks. Attacks on resources lasted more than 4 days. As a result, the content of the resources was severely damaged. Some of the materials were deleted and could not be restored later. Resources argument.az, toplum.tv, and abzas.net, which criticize the government, were also attacked.

 

In some cases, journalists’ personal e-mails and social media pages were attacked. Naila Balayeva, editor-in-chief of the anews.az news website, was subjected to such pressure. Along with the website she heads, her personal Facebook page has also come under cyber attack. Independent journalist Arzu Geybulla has faced attacks of campaign nature, threats, and insults on the Internet due to her articles.

 

Courts against journalists

 

In 2020, the media was repressed at least 67 times, using legal mechanisms against journalists. The journalists were prosecuted for slander and insult, as well as other suspicious charges. Detention of journalists performing their professional activities, interrogation of journalists in law enforcement agencies, and administrative punishment of journalists without proper legal grounds were the main notable incidents.

 

Azerbaijani legislation still criminalizes defamation and insult. Journalists were prosecuted at least 13 times in 1 year for defamation and insult. Elchin Hasanzadeh, a journalist working in Mingachevir city and an employee of the yukselish.info website, a blogger Ibrahim Turksoy, and Anar Mammadov, the head of the kriminal.az website, have been prosecuted for their writings.

 

Mirhasan Seyidov, the head of the Neftchala District Executive Power, had Adil Huseynli, the editor-in-chief of the small-budget website bizimxeber.az, been fined 1,000 AZN for his writings.

 

Well-known businessman, millionaire Gulagha Ganbarov (Gulagha Tanha) filed a civil lawsuit against 4 media outlets – legion.az, realmedia.az, dia.az, heqiqixeber.com. Dissatisfied with the articles spread in those media, the plaintiff demanded a fine of 100,000 AZN for each website. Another well-known businessman Rasim Mammadov has sued Zaur Gariboglu, editor-in-chief of Reaksiya Internet TV, advocate Aslan Ismayilov, and journalist Taleh Shahsuvarli on both civil and private charges.

 

In 2020, at least 5 journalists, bloggers, and social media activists were imprisoned on various charges. Elchin Mammad, editor-in-chief of the Yuksalish Namine newspaper and head of the Sumgayit Youth Legal Awareness Organization, was convicted of “theft” and “illegal possession of weapons” and sentenced to 4 years in prison. Polad Aslanov, the head of xeberman.com, was convicted of high treason and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Shafag Aghajan, head of the Bakupress Agency, was sentenced to 3 years in prison in 2020. The head of azel.tv, Afgan Sadigov, was convicted of “extortion”. The journalist was sentenced to 7 years in prison. Blogger Aslan Gurbanov was arrested on charges of inciting anti-government protests. Jalil Zabidov, a blogger working in the region, was sentenced to 5 months in prison on hooliganism charges following his critical sharings. Well-known critical journalist Tazakhan Miralamli, an employee of the Azadlig newspaper, was also found guilty of hooliganism. Local courts sentenced him to 1 year in prison.

 

A criminal case has been opened against a group of Azerbaijani bloggers operating abroad. Ordukhan Temirkhan, Gurban Mammadov, Orkhan Aghayev, Rafael Piriyev, Ali Hasanaliyev, Tural Sadigli, accused of inciting anti-government protests, have been declared internationally wanted.

 

The state of access to public information

 

Public information agencies do not respond to information requests in full, on time, or in an appropriate manner. The rate of response to inquiries in accordance with the law is around 35-40 percent. How 29 information requests sent to information owners were fulfilled in 2020 was investigated. 16 of those inquiries were answered. 15 of these answers were given after the 7-day period established by law. 10 of the responses to the information requests covered asked information. According to the inquiries, high-ranking government agencies responded. Local executive authorities responded to only one of the information requests sent to them.

 

Those whose rights to information have been violated do not receive the necessary support from the courts. In 2020, at least 8 lawsuits were filed with the courts in connection with the violation of the right to information. The courts generally did not uphold any of these allegations against the executive powers.

 

An analysis of media-related incidents in 2020 shows that there is no significant change in the means by which media workers are negatively affected. Independent and critical journalists and bloggers performing their professional activities are detained, their professional tools are interfered with, and their professional activities are obstructed. Journalists against whom criminal proceedings are instituted are usually detained pending trial. Professional journalists are physically harassed and beaten. Legal mechanisms to protect them from such abuse are not working. Criminal and civil lawsuits against the media for defamation and insult of journalists remain common, and the jurisprudence in this area is not strictly in line with the practice of the European Court. The target of physical and non-physical pressures is usually the independent media, which criticizes the government, and the journalists who work for such media. Blocking the Internet media has become commonplace, and the country’s parliament has introduced new additions to the legislation that make it even easier to block any media. Media outlets that disseminate content that the government does not like are periodically cyber-attacked and destroyed. There is no easy access to public information.

 

Source: Turan News Agency

 

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