Thursday, April 17, 2014


Commentary

Azerbaijan Belongs On Obama's List Of Violators Of Press Freedom

Independent journalist Elmar Huseynov was murdered on March 2, 2005. His killers are still at large.
Independent journalist Elmar Huseynov was murdered on March 2, 2005. His killers are still at large.
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By Elmar Chakhtakhtinski
It was encouraging to see U.S. President Barack Obama sign on May 17 the Daniel Pearl Act, which requires the U.S. State Department to compile a public list of governments that violate the rights of journalists. There is no guarantee, however, that this measure will not be perceived as a mere PR tactic or just another tool designed to intimidate countries already blacklisted by the United States due to other foreign policy concerns.

To preclude that, it is important that the list objectively name the regimes with the worst records on press freedom, including the so-called "friendly dictatorships" in the Middle East and beyond.
 
To that end, I nominate the first candidate – the leadership of the Azerbaijan Republic.
 
Azerbaijan's petro-dictatorship not only qualifies as a gross violator of press freedom by any reasonable criteria, it also often uses its energy and geopolitical cooperation with the West to deflect criticism on human rights and democracy. Thus, the inclusion of this regime would send a strong message about the list's impartiality and credibility.
 
Let's consider the basic "credentials" of this contender for a place on the list.
 
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (right) meets with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Baku on June 6.
The government's most vocal critic, Elmar Huseynov, an opposition journalist and the editor of the popular magazine "Monitor," was murdered in 2005 in front of his apartment building. His killers are still at large, and many observers accuse the authorities of deliberately stonewalling the investigation and failing to bring them to justice. Some even identify powerful figures within the government as the real force behind the crime.

Huseynov's former colleague, dissident journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, has been behind bars for several years on fabricated "terrorism" and "drug possession" charges, and the Azerbaijani leadership has ignored the recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights ordering his release, which is mandatory for Azerbaijan as a member of Council of Europe.
 
Last year, two young bloggers, Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli, were severely beaten and then arrested on absurd charges of "hooliganism."  Despite numerous protests and condemnations from international rights groups, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, European governments, and the U.S. State Department, a court in Baku sentenced them to 2 1/2 years in jail. Many other independent journalists have been imprisoned, physically attacked, blackmailed, or forced into exile.
 
Under President Ilham Aliyev, who inherited the post from his late father in 2003, all local TV and radio stations have been brought under government control. The broadcasting of Western radio stations, including the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, has been banned from the local airwaves.

The remaining few opposition newspapers are deprived of revenue as the authorities target any businesses that advertise in their pages. They are also subject to bogus "defamation" lawsuits resulting in large fines and in some cases the paper's mandatory closure.
 
Journalist Eynulla Fatullayev in a Baku court in April
Not surprisingly, Azerbaijan has already been named as one of the top violators of press freedom by leading international organizations. Aliyev has been repeatedly included in the "Predator of the Press" list compiled by the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. The U.S. State Department's own annual report on human rights also lists numerous instances of the suppression of free media and reprisals against journalists critical of the government's policies.
 
Therefore, not only would it be illogical to exclude Azerbaijan from the new list mandated by the Daniel Pearl Act, such an omission would give credence to the supposition that American policy-makers readily sacrifice democracy and human rights on the altar of lucrative energy contracts.

On the other hand, the inclusion of Azerbaijan in this list would show consistency and the principled nature of the U.S. stance and provide moral support for those forces that struggle for free speech in Azerbaijan and around the world.
 
Elmar Chakhtakhtinski is the chairman of Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy (AZAD), a U.S.-based organization that advocates for democracy in Azerbaijan and other countries. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Demokrat
June 08, 2010 22:46
Well said!

by: Mən from: Bak;
June 09, 2010 07:47
Are there any practical consequences for leaders of the countries included in the list ? Can they be banned from visiting US ?

by: Jean Citroen from: New Orleans
June 09, 2010 15:49
Government like Aliev regime of Azerbaijan should not only be included in such lists, but also isolated and sanctioned. Well, that is if the West really cares about democracy and human rights...

by: RS from: Azerbaijan
June 09, 2010 19:24
First of all, i would like to start with why anyone would like want Azerbaijan to be on Obama's list even though the author himself states that it could be part of political pressure ?
I just would like to suggest you another approach about all this media stuff without going into the details of article even though there are many points that i don't agree. I think everything starts and ends in the mindset of the people. We all live in this country and we face the same problems, and media is part of this. Who are this people work for media - you, my relative your neighbor. Who are the people that you accuse that put all this media people in the jail - father of your friends, your neighbor, my neighbor. So, it is not the individual problem of anybody, it is the problem of society. As i said before it is all about mindset. I've been leaving abroad for a long time and i will give example from my own analysis while living there.
The main argument about putting journalists in the jail is that "if it would have happened in US or France , then nobody would sue that journalists and as a result they wouldn't go to jail". But why it is like that in US but not in Azerbaijan? It is because they have different values. In US, if the neighbor of X Person would come to Y person and say that "you are not doing it right. it is stupid way of doing this", Y person would be calm and tolerate. Imagine this happening in Azerbaijan, i am very sure Y person being you, me, your friend or my friend would start to aggressively react and would do smt else. It is because we have different way of thinking and approach to things from John in America. And that person who sues journalist is part of this society also. If you don't change that way of thinking, this things will go like this. So, it all ends up in the mindset of society. We should first change this, then other things will automatically and systemically correct itself. And i think, for newly formed country things are not that bad for Azerbaijan for now. All this people who has studied abroad and coming back already have new way thinking, and if you imagine that all this people who study with government support in foreign countries come back with new mindset (i believe at least 60% of those will have it) you can see there is a room for being optimistic.
I hope i could explain my point, if something is not clear i am more than happy to answer any questions.

by: Patriot from: Azerbaijan, Baku
June 09, 2010 20:20
Unfortunately your nomination of the Azerbaijani government to this list as the first candidate is a biased decision. Definitely, we still have to work hard for the improvement of the media freedom in Azerbaijan but it will be extremely unfair if we will close our eyes to all the positive incentives that the government is showing nowadays.

We should not forget that the government has already established The Azerbaijani president's Fund going to Support Media Development and this fund will receive AZN 1.3m ($1.619m) from the state this year (news.az). A political disguise? No I don’t think so. At least there are far more effective ways for playing rather than paying this amount of money. Probably this amount will be increased from year to year and the Fund has already started to cooperate with the leading media organizations worldwide in order to bring the best expertise into the work.

According to official statistics there are more than 1200 newspapers operating in the country. This obviously shows that establishment of the new newspaper is not a big problem in our country. The challenge is the keeping the effective continuation of the newspapers. And here not the governmental sanctions but the lack of capacity, experience and professionalism becomes a decisive factor. The newspapers which realize that its quite hard to survive with the amateur skills start to use unverified facts and often practice sensationalism, personal humiliation and even sabotage which sometimes brings in the governmental sanctions. As the result several newspapers are getting closed due to lack of management and the revenue generation skills and the others for violating the basic laws.

Moreover, Azerbaijan is highly investing for the development of the Information and Communication Technologies. The internet prices are rapidly decreasing and Azerbaijan is becoming one of the most active internet users in the post-soviet area. Nowadays social networking and blogging websites such as Facebook and Twitter are reflecting the extreme freedom of speech and expression of the Azerbaijani youth. You can easily witness people freely commenting and blogging, expressing their political views in any (unfortunately sometimes in very impolite) style. Nobody is prosecuting, detaining or killing that people. This is it. The ultimate freedom of expression. At least make a comparison with the Iran and Pakistan who have harshly banned the use of Facebook and Youtube locally.

Considering all of the above-mentioned points, I once again show my discontent with the opinion that the leadership of the Azerbaijani government should be nominated as the first candidate for the list of governments that violates the press freedom.
In Response

by: Caucasia from: London
June 14, 2010 08:02
Do you work for the government, maybe?
It is not about the amounts of money or newspapers, it is about their content and the people that write for them; it is about pluralism and alternative views expressed not on facebook but on TV; it is about people spending years in jail on fabricated sentences. Now if you think you are a patriot in supporting the current state of affairs in Azerbaijani media and want to tell only niceties about them - fine with me. To me real patriotism would be a constructive, but permanently critical attitude...
In Response

by: Patriot from: Azerbaijan
June 23, 2010 11:32
:) Actually I don't. Be sure about it.

I simply can not tolerate blind and one-sided criticism. Sure, we have some problems with freedom in our country but at the same time we should also underline the positive changes. We, the new generation is the key and accelerator who can bring this change. Well-educated, optimistic and liberal youth will sure bring the change. But time is another important factor. We need evolution not revolution and thats the key to democracy.

by: Qasim from: Bern
June 10, 2010 11:16
Good article. Thanks for article
In Response

by: orik from: Baku
June 10, 2010 13:48
I totally, disagree with this article and all almost most of the mentioned parts of this particle article that saysAzerbaijan Belongs On Obama's List Of Violators Of Press Freedom .
I'll just go very briefly through my view point.
Everyday, more or less I read several free newspaper and all these nespapers and website as well and almostly, most of them write their articles very freely and orientedly as they want. Here is the question, as they write and put their articles (fairly or unfairly) So then what is this violatency about I can not figere out?!!!
Therefore, when it comes the readers, of this site I totally, disagree and disconnect this abovementioned points in article as well.




by: Tman from: London
June 20, 2010 01:18
This article is mostly correct, anyone who disagrees does not live in Azerbaijan or works for the government. Simply because the number of journalists that are arrested on false charges coupled with the closure of several independent news sources are proof enough by themselves. When we bring into this equation the treatment of protesters by police, and the highly dubious changes that have been made to the constitution in the last few years, one gets the impression that politics in Azerbaijan is slowly regressing and becoming less democratic under YAP rule.

The overall impression one gets from the actions of the government are of a tightening noose on opposition views and organisations. The monopolisation of the media seems to be a long term aim of the current regime, which does not bode well for the future of a free and democratic Azerbaijan.

It is sad to see that a few foolish individuals cannot see the obvious, though perhaps not as sad as the poor level of English used by government cronies posing as free minded citizens on these comment pages.
In Response

by: Patriot from: Azerbaijan, Baku
June 23, 2010 11:16
Actually this comment mostly looks like just a comment from the author:)

And please try to stay away from offending the people their opinion and their language skills. This is not the topic of the article or discussion here.

The fact that some people see the positive changes does not mean that they work for the government. Actually the naivety of your idea reflect the complete foolishness of you and not the others.

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