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Area: 86,600
Population: 8,410,000.
Language: Azeri.
Head of state: Ilham Aliev.

Azerbaijan - Annual report 2007

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The regime frequently uses violence and threats against the media and the country came near the bottom of the 2006 worldwide press freedom index.

A court in Yasamal rejected a complaint on 27 January 2006 filed by journalist Sarvan Rizvanov (of the Turan news agency) against police officer Col. Chingiz Mamedov for hitting him with an iron bar during an authorised demonstration on 9 November 2005. The local prosecutor refused to take action and ignored medical reports and photos taken of the attack.

Fikret Huseynli, of the main opposition daily Azadlig, was kidnapped and badly beaten in Baku on 5 March 2006. He was on his way to the Badamdar district for his work when he was knocked unconscious from behind. When he came to he was in a car with three men who took him to the outskirts of the capital and threw him out. They broke his fingers, stabbed him in the neck and left him for dead at the roadside. He was later found and taken to hospital.

The editor of the opposition daily Bizim Yol, Bahaddin Khaziev, was kidnapped from his car on the night of 18 May by five men who put a sack over his head, beat him and ordered him to stop writing articles. They then left him for dead near a lake about 20 km outside the capital after driving over his legs. He was found unconscious the next morning and taken to hospital in critical condition. He had reported on caviar smuggling and on corruption by a top security ministry official. Local and foreign pressure obliged the authorities to open an enquiry into the attack but many people demonstrating in support of Khaziev were arrested.

Journalist and writer Sakit Zahidov, of Azadlig, was arrested on 23 June and charged with possessing a large quantity of drugs with intent to sell it. A support committee of prominent people, independent journalists, politicians and human rights activists called for his release. Zahidov said 10 grammes of heroin police claimed they found on him had been planted by them. Medical tests showed he was not a drug-user. He began a 10-day hunger-strike on 25 July to protest against his detention. He was given a three-year prison sentence on 4 October, even though the prosecution failed to prove he had bought, consumed and intended to sell the heroin.

Journalists and opponents of President Ilham Aliev stepped up their campaign against the regime in October after the authorities said they were expelling the opposition papers Azadlig and Bizim Yol, the main independent TV station ANS, the Turan news agency and the Azerbaijan Popular Front party from their offices in central Baku. Delegates of the Azadlig (“Freedom”) opposition coalition began a hunger-strike on 30 October and were joined on 9 November by representatives of the independent media in protest against what they called “the government’s unofficial war on the free press.”

But the regime went ahead and evicted Azadlig and Turan on 25 November from their offices to new premises on the outskirts of the city, some of which were already occupied. Equipment and archives were badly damaged during the forced move. The state broadcasting council announced the same day it was cancelling the operating permit of ANS TV and the station went off the air a few hours later. The council also said it would ban the transmission in the country of the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Liberty / Radio Free Europe from 1 January 2007.

The killer of editor Elmar Huseynov, of the newspaper Monitor, who was shot dead in March 2005, has still not been identified. The public prosecutor on 8 August 2006 accused former economic development minister Farkhad Aliev, whom Huseynov had often strongly criticised, of being involved in the murder. Aliev strongly denied this.

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