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Azerbaijan 13 June 2007

Number of journalists seeking asylum at embassies in Baku increases to 24

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today at the increase in the number of Azerbaijani journalists seeking asylum in western embassies in Baku in reaction to the arbitrary closure of their newspapers and the 30-month prison sentence imposed on newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev.

The number of journalists who have taken this step in the past two and a half weeks now stands at 24. The embassies at which asylum requests have been made include those of Germany, Britain and the United States.

“The recourse to this measure highlights the difficulties that independent and opposition journalists have been encountering for many years despite their repeated appeals for help,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The international community must now get to grips with the issue of press freedom in Azerbaijan.”

None of the journalists has so far received a response from the embassies. The German and British authorities have nonetheless told them their requests would be considered.

Fifteen journalists seek political asylum in protest against closure of newspapers

Reporters Without Borders today condemned constant government harassment of the opposition media, which has led 14 journalists working for two dailies, the Azerbaijani-language Gundelik Azerbaijan and the Russian-language Realny Azerbaijan, to seek political asylum in the past four days after their newspapers were closed last week. The editor of the newspaper Nota Bene has also requested asylum because he fears for his safety.

“First the offices of Gundelik Azerbaijan and Realny Azerbaijan were shut down for alleged fire safety violations then, on 26 May, the owner of their premises suddenly rescinded their lease and they had to vacate immediately,” Reporters Without Borders said. “They would have us believe this is just a coincidence. These are the methods of an authoritarian regime.”

The press freedom organisation added: “If President Ilham Aliev wants to protect the press, he should help these two dailies find new premises. The 41 employees and contributors to these newspapers are now without any source of income, some of them feel threatened and the country’s press is all the poorer.”

The 14 Gundelik Azerbaijan and Realny Azerbaijan journalists submitted their political asylum requests to the US, German, British and Norwegian embassies and the office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). They include Gundelik Azerbaijan editor Uzeir Jafarov, who said they were seeking asylum because of persecution, and because arrests and attacks made it impossible for them to work as journalists.

Jafarov was attacked and beaten on 20 April after given evidence at the trial of Eynulla Fatullaev, the founder of Gundelik Azerbaijan and Realny Azerbaijan, who received a 30-month prison sentence the same day for “defaming” and “insulting” Azerbaijanis in an article about Armenia.

The satirical website, whose editor, Habib Muntezir is based in Germany, has meanwhile been inaccessible again since 21 May because of a hacker attack on the Site5 server that hosts it. Muntezir is convinced the attack was deliberately targeted. It is not the first time that the site has been attacked.

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