Area: 86,600 sq.km.
Languages: Azeri, Russian
Head of state: President Ilham Aliev
Things have worsened for pro-opposition journalists since the 2003 presidential election. Newspaper editor Rauf Arifoglu, who co-leads an opposition party, was jailed for five years for "disturbing the peace." Attacks on journalists have increased and media are being crushed by heavy fines.
Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the main opposition daily Yeni Musavat and vice-president of the opposition party Musavat, was sentenced to five years in prison on 22 October 2004 for "disturbing the peace" and "refusing to obey an order" by police. He had been detained since 27 October 2003 with six other opposition figures and accused of organising the street protests that rocked the country after the dubious presidential election on 15 October that year.
His lawyer, Samed Panahov, criticised trial irregularities and the lack of evidence against him. Many human rights groups, as well as the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union presidency, had called for those arrested to be tried fairly and openly or else released.
More than 50 journalists were attacked while covering the violent clashes between demonstrators and police on 15 and 16 October. By the end of 2004, nobody had been punished for the attacks.
Nor had anyone been punished for attacks on several opposition journalists during 2004. Aydin Guliev, editor of the opposition daily Baki Khaber, was kidnapped and beaten up in Baku on 17 July by four thugs who accused him of "not serving the government and Islam" and told him to stop working as a journalist.
Eynulla Fatullayev, of the opposition weekly Monitor, who had often harshly criticised the government, was beaten over the head in a Baku street on 26 July. Mohammed Rzayev, of the opposition daily Azadlig, was kidnapped and beaten by masked men in Nakhichevan (a constituent Azeri republic in an enclave between Armenia and Iran) on 6 November. They warned him to stop criticising the situation in Nakhichevan. He had earlier been kidnapped, beaten and threatened in Nakhichevan on 28 April.
The law on defamation and insults, providing for imprisonment (articles 147.2 and 148 of the criminal code), was often used to attack press freedom.
A Baku court gave Rovshan Kebirli, editor of the daily Mukhalifat, and reporter Yusif Gambar a two-year suspended prison sentence on 25 February for defaming the national taekwondo federation by writing on 18 October 2003 that federation members had helped security forces break up the demonstrations in Baku three days earlier.
Aydin Guliev, editor of the opposition daily Baki Khaber, was given a one-year suspended prison sentence on 30 August for libelling and insulting Jalal Aliev, the president’s uncle.
Heavy fines imposed on the media also threatened their survival. The main opposition daily, Yeni Musavat, shut down after many fines totalling some 125,000 euros. The regime froze the paper’s assets on 16 November, making it impossible to continue. The paper’s financial problems began in late 2003 after it had lost six libel suits, brought by Mamed Aliev, ambassador to Turkey, Rashid Hasanov, brother of the supreme court president, and defence minister Safar Abiyev, among others.
Elmar Huseynov, founder and editor of the Russian-language opposition weekly Monitor, and reporter Tarlan Mamedzade were fined about 6,500 euros on 22 September for "insulting the honour and dignity" of government MP Siyavush Novruzov in an article that strongly criticised MPs. The paper appealed against the verdict but still faces another libel suit by another MP, Zalimkhan Yagub.
2 journalists were kidnapped
and 6 threatened or physically attacked