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Azerbaijan3 February 2005

Opposition journalist abducted and threatened by soldiers

Reporters Without Borders said it was appalled by the abduction and threats to a journalist on the opposition daily Monitor, Akper Hasanov, who was held for almost five hours on 2 February at Baku military headquarters.

Soldiers in plain clothes forced him to write a refutation of one of his articles carried by the Monitor on 29 January that reported on horrifying conditions endured by a military unit in the Geranboy region.

"We are appalled at the crude methods of intimidation used by government employees towards a journalist," the worldwide press freedom organisation said in a letter to the defence minister. " The fact that defence ministry officials can kidnap an opposition journalist on the streets of Baku in broad daylight with complete impunity is a disturbing indication of the deterioration in press freedom in Azerbaijan," it said, calling for an independent investigation to establish the full facts of the case.

Hasanov’s ordeal began when he was approached by a man who described himself as a teacher who had been unfairly dismissed. He said he had proof of his allegations and invited the journalist to follow him to Icheri Sheher (army headquarters) to show him some documents.

Several people then seized the journalist and took him to the office of the Baku military command where he was held from midday until 4.30pm. His kidnappers forced him to put in writing that his article headlined « if war was tomorrow », carried in Monitor on 29 January 2005, was in fact written by the newspaper’s editor, Elmar Huseynov, against whom the authorities were already taking legal action. They threatened to sack his uncle who works for the defence ministry and frightened him by saying that they knew his telephone number and address. In the face of relentless psychological harassment, he finally wrote a letter saying that his editor was the author of the article. The soldiers seized his dictaphone and listened to all his recordings. They then called the defence ministry and said that their job was done.

Elmar Huseynov, editor of Monitor described the incident as a brutal violation of the law and of press freedom. "It is an obvious sign of the lamentable state of free expression in our country and ignorance of the demands of the international community in relation to press freedom," he said.

The daily has been hounded through the courts since October 2003 and sentenced to pay heavy fines after several defamation actions brought by people close to the government.

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