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Azerbaijan28 February 2005

Two opposition journalists abducted, beaten and humiliated

Reporters Without Borders expressed indignation after two journalists on an opposition daily were abducted, beaten and humiliated.

Editor Ganimat Zahidov and technical director Azer Ahmedov, of Azadlig were seized in the capital Baku as they left the newspaper offices shortly before midnight on 25 February.

They were threatened, beaten up and humiliated in a restaurant then forced to sign confessions at 3am at a local police station in Khatai before being released several hours later.

The worldwide press freedom organisation called on President Ilham Aliyev and interior minister Ramil Usubov, to see that everything was done to quickly find and punish those responsible.

"This is the second case in a month of abduction of opposition journalists in particularly humiliating and degrading circumstances", the organisation said.

"We are outraged by these methods of intimidation and we strongly condemn the brutality meted out to these journalists, a very disturbing indication of the state of press freedom.

Azadlig editor, Ganimat Zahidov, who is close to the opposition Popular Front, told a press conference on 26 February that he had realised he was under threat one week before his abduction.

A certain Maharram Ismailov, driving a BMW car, had offered money to members of the newspaper’s staff in exchange for the editor’s home address. Shortly afterwards the same man approached Zahidov on a pretext.

Zahidov described what happened after he and Azer Ahmedov left the Azadlig offices. Three well-built men forced them into a white car and then took them to a Baku restaurant, The Three Palms. They were taken to a room that was then locked and their mobile phones were taken away.

They were then joined by some prostitutes who were forced to strip and were then beaten. The journalists then suffered the same fate, while their captors took photos.

Zahidov said that while they were being beaten, their abductors told them to stop publishing critical articles about President Aliyev and reporting on rioting in the country’s prisons. The journalists were then taken at 3am to Khatai police station, in a Baku suburb and made to sign false statement on the orders of two police officers, who said they had been arrested for immoral conduct in a public place.

Zahidov said the officers seemed afraid of being beaten up themselves by the men who had attacked the journalists, both of whom suffered multiple bruising, particularly around the eyes. Zahidov also said he had serious abdominal pain and told the press conference that he would make an official complaint.

The day after the ordeal, the pro-government TV Lider (run by Adalat Aliyev, great nephew of the late president Heidar Aliyev) showed photos of the naked journalists with the comment, "This is the immoral way that opposition journalists spend their free time." The photos were also posted online.

The interior minister on 28 February confirmed by phone the arrest of the two journalists, saying they had been held for immoral behaviour in The Three Palms restaurant in Baku.

It was the second abduction of this type within a month. Reporters Without Borders had 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.

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