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Azerbaijan30 January 2003

Appeal to stop harassment of independent media

Reporters Without Borders today denounced the government’s harassment of independent media and appealed to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe to get the authorities to stop violating international press freedom standards.

"More than 30 formal complaints were made against the independent media last year, mostly by government employees," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "Harassment of the media is just not acceptable from the rulers of a country that has pledged to European bodies to do everything it can to respect press freedom."

He called on Freimut Duve, the OSCE’s press freedom representative, and Council of Europe secretary-general, Walter Schwimmer, to get the authorities to keep their promises and respect freedom of the press.

Several journalists and human rights activists staged a hunger strike in Azerbaijan from 22 to 28 January to protest against judicial harassment of the independent daily Yeni Musavat and to draw international attention to press freedom violations.

Rauf Arifoglu, the paper’s editor, launched the protest by denouncing the 13 lawsuits against the media started in recent months by the authorities, who had demanded closure of his paper and threatened his journalists. He said the paper had been given three fines totalling 100,000 euros.

Other participants in the hunger strike were Yadigar Mamedli, president of the Democratic Journalists’ League, Mahman Aliyev, head of the Turan news agency, Ganimat Zahidov, president of the Azad Soz Journalists’ Union, Azer Hasret, secretary-general of Azerbaijan Journalists’ Confederation, Zahid Gazanfaroglu, of Yeni Musavat, Zohrab Ismayil, publisher of the daily Azadlig, Asif Marazli, editor of the weekly Tazadlar, Mohammed Arsoy, a member of the Azad Soz Journalists’ Union and Sanan Hasanoglu, editor of Compatriot, a magazine for Azerbaijanis abroad.

The authorities also shut down on 28 January a newsstand outside Baku University belonging to the Gaya distribution company that sold opposition magazines not available from state-owned newsstands. City officials said the kiosk’s removal was part of urban embellishment, but a nearby kiosk owned by the government was left in place. Baku now has only a dozen Gaya newsstands out of an original 20.

Several hundred journalists demonstrated in the streets of Baku on 12 December last to denounce the renewed pressure on the independent media and in early December, the Council of Editors asked the OSCE and the Council of Europe to intervene.

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