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Azerbaijan jailing journalists on ‘trumped-up charges’

Published on 11/09/2009

Baku -- European security body the OSCE on Thursday accused Azerbaijan of jailing journalists on "trumped-up charges" and urged the ex-Soviet republic to stop harassing independent media.

"For Azerbaijan to improve its media freedom record, law enforcement should be firmly instructed to protect journalists instead of endangering them through harassment and trumped-up charges," the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s media freedom representative, Miklos Haraszti, said in a statement during a visit to the Azerbaijani capital Baku.

He said the case of two opposition bloggers currently on trial on hooliganism charges "demonstrates that law enforcement has not yet given up producing undue accusations against critically minded media workers."

Bloggers Adnan Hajizade, 26, and Emin Milli, 29, are facing up to five years in prison on hooliganism charges after they were arrested on July 8 following a scuffle at a Baku restaurant.

The bloggers, who have been held in jail since their arrests, say they were attacked and arrested for political reasons because of their online criticism of authorities in Azerbaijan, an oil-rich, mainly Muslim republic.

Haraszti said he hoped the two bloggers would be released soon.

He said he was encouraged by assurances from government officials that Azerbaijan would soon abandon its controversial criminal libel laws. Dozens of journalists have been jailed in recent years under laws that make libel a criminal offence, unlike a civil issue as in many Western countries.

But he criticised a ban imposed last year on foreign broadcasts that effectively shut down local-language broadcasts of the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Liberty, which many saw as some of the country’s only sources of independent news. He also condemned recent legal amendments that gave the government more power to interfere with the press.