150 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 86100 sq. km.
Head of state: Ilham Aliyev, since October 2003
Ilham Aliyev, son of the former president, Heydar Aliyev, was re-elected president with nearly 90% of the vote on 15 October 2008. Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) contested the result and Reporters Without Borders condemned partiality by state-run media.
Ilham Aliyev’s relations with the very few independent media in Azerbaijan are tinged with authoritarianism and terror. Journalists who dare to speak out about the evils of the regime including corruption and high unemployment expose themselves to real danger. Agil Khalil, a young journalist on the daily Azadlig, was driven into exile in 2008 after escaping a murder attempt. He had to give up his job his family and his country after he reported on dubious practices on the part of the secret services. Despite numerous appeals to the president from the international community, the journalist continued to face violence assaults and a sham trial. And exposing crime in the country can be as dangerous as exposing corruption. Four journalists working for the Turan Agency and the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), were mistreated and threatened by police at the start of 2009 as they tried to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a family man at the start of 2009 in the Azeri exclave of Nakhichevan at the Iranian-Armenian border. Since then journalists have been banned from Nakhichevan. Several journalists are currently in prison in the country. Eynulla Fatullayev, working for the dailies Realny Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaijan, had an eight-year prison sentence upheld on appeal in January 2008, Mushfig Huseynov of the newspaper Bizim Yol was sentenced at the start of 2008 to six years in prison. Ganimat Zahidov (Azadlig) is due for release in 2012. This hounding of the press also extends beyond the country’s borders as far as foreign media. Shortly after Ilham Aliyev’s re-election, the National Broadcasting Council on 1st January 2009 suspended broadcasts of some foreign radios on the Azerbaijan FM band. The BBC, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America can no longer be picked up Azerbaijan. There is a lack of pluralism in the country’s media landscape. Energy policy has taken precedence over democratisation as Aliyev prefers to boast of his country’s oil and gas riches. Moreover the president secured the constitutional right in a March 2009 referendum to unlimited runs at the presidency. A month later, the head of state took a small step towards liberalisation by releasing Azadlig journalist Sakit Zahidov, on 9 April 2009.