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Azerbaijan13 November 2006

Hunger strike by journalists and opposition representatives in protest against crackdown on independent media

Reporters Without Borders today voiced its full support for those staging a hunger strike in Azerbaijan “to protest against the government’s undeclared war on the free press.” Members of the Azadlig (“Freedom”) opposition block began the protest on 20 October. They were joined by the editors of independent media on 9 November.

“This is the second time Azeri journalists have been forced to go on hunger strike to make themselves heard,” the press freedom organisation said. “Their November 1999 protest led to a significant increase in press freedom in Azerbaijan. Today the situation is more difficult, because there is more government harassment and it affects foreign media as well.”

Representatives of all the leading independent media are taking part - six newspapers (Azadlig, Milli Yol, Yeni Musavat, Bizin Yol, Novoya Vremya and 24 Saat), the magazine Ganun and the news agency Turan.

“The hunger strike is one of the possibilities that democracy gives us,” they said in a joint statement on 9 November. “We do not think it will change the government’s attitude towards the independent media but we will press on as long as possible.”

The editors joined the hunger strike two days after the police dispersed a demonstration by journalists in support of the newspaper Azadlig, which is threatened with eviction from its premises. “This crackdown confirms once again the anti-democratic nature of our government,” the joint statement said.

Government harassment of the media increased after the March 2005 murder of Elmar Husseynov, the editor if the opposition weekly Monitor, the statement said. The victims of press freedom violations have included satirical poet Sakit Zahidov, who received a three-year prison sentence on a trumped-up charge, the newspaper he writes for, Azadlig, the ANS TV station and three foreign radio stations (the BBC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America).

The hunger strikers appealed for support from international organisations including the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE. “The western democracies must not trade our petroleum for democracy,” they said.

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