Azerbaijan 4 December 2006
Open letter to Ilham Aliev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Paris, 4 December 2006
Dear Mr. President,
Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that defends press freedom worldwide, would like to express to you its deep concern about the recent deterioration in press freedom in your country.
You said in a recent interview on state television that “no one should doubt freedom of expression and press freedom in Azerbaijan.” Unfortunately, the crackdown on independent journalists and media which began in October and which has taken a dramatic turn since 24 November forces us to question what you said.
The newspaper Azadlig was under constant threat of eviction from its premises from October onwards. The threat was carried out on 24 November on the decision of the Baku economic court. Azadlig, the news agency Turan and the newspaper Bizim Yol were evicted and told to move to new premises assigned to them by the government. On arriving at the new premises, they found they were already occupied. The work of these media has been seriously disrupted, especially as part of their equipment and archives were damaged or lost in the move.
The National Television and Radio Council announced on 24 November that it was withdrawing the licence of ANS, the leading independent TV station. ANS stopped broadcasting the same day. As the BBC, RFE/RL and Voice of America were retransmitted on ANS’s channels, the withdrawal of the licence meant these radio stations have also been silenced.
The independent, opposition and foreign media are being systematically targeted by these repressive measures, which show that the Azeri authorities are taking a harder line on free expression and press freedom despite the appeals from press freedom organisations, and representatives of the European Union, the OSCE and the United States.
Mr. President, we call on you to intervene to ensure that the press freedom is respected in Azerbaijan. We would also like to inform of our intention to follow the situation closely and to help Azerbaijan’s independent media. We are particularly conscious of the danger that these restrictions could affect the 2008 presidential election.
We trust you will give this matter your careful consideration.