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Azerbaijan10 August 2005

Threats and physical attacks on opposition news media

Reporters Without Borders today condemned threats and physical attacks that have taken place in the past four days on the Khagani Street building in Baku that houses several opposition newspapers and the headquarters of the opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan. The victims blame the attacks on government supporters.

"We reiterate our call to pro-government parties and media to stop denigrating and harassing privately-owned newspapers and to comply with the undertakings which the president gave to the Council of Europe and the OSCE," the press freedom organisation said.

The opposition daily Azadlig has been singled out in recent days in the governmental media, with the television station Lider TV and the newspaper Yeni Azerbaidjan carrying reports that it has been occupying its premises illegally since 1992. The real targets appear to be several other media and journalistic organisations in the same building, namely the news agency TURAN, Bizim yol paper and the Confederation of Journalists.

On 6 and 8 August, the building was attacked by "demonstrators" who included members of the youth wing of the pro-government party Yeni Azerbaijan as well as plain-clothes police and municipal employees. They tried to break the building’s windows, threw stones, eggs and tomatoes, and insulted and hit journalists present, shouting, "We are going to throw you out."

The journalists who work in the building and Popular Front of Azerbaijan members were yesterday warned of threats to set fire to the building. Azadlig staff members and journalists with independent media are taking turns to keep a constant watch in the building in an attempt prevent the threats from being carried out.

Representatives of the newspapers Azadlig, Zerkalo, Gun-Sahar, Yeni Musavat, Baki Habar, Novoye Vremya and Bizim Yol, the news agency TURAN, the Confederation of Journalists’ Unions and the Democratic League of Journalists issued a joint appeal on 8 August to the international community to press the Azerbaijani authorities to respect press freedom and stop this harassment.

These incidents have come at a moment of great tension in the run-up to legislative elections scheduled for November.

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