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An unauthorized photo of President Ilham Aliyev?

The constitutional court of Azerbaijan is considering amendments that would ban the broadcast or publication of video, audio, or photographs of any person without his or her prior approval, except in yet-to-be defined special cases.

The proposed amendments have alarmed media law experts. One such observer, Alasgar Mammadli, said that so far, “there are no specific laws that would describe the cases in which a journalist is allowed to record or film a public official in a public place, without his her approval.”

Mammadli suggests one hypothetical case that illustrates the law's absurdity. If a journalist catches a member of parliament sleeping during proceedings -- a dereliction of duty the public should be informed of, he said -- the amendment would “require the journalist to wake the MP, ask his permission to shoot, wait for him to fall asleep again, and then push the record button.”

The newspaper “Bizim Yol” last week published pictures from the birthday party of a Moscow-based Azerbaijani oligarch, showing high-level Azerbaijani officials handing gifts worth thousands of dollars to the oligarch. Editor in chief Bahaddin Haziyev said that citizens have a right to know how much Azerbaijani officials spend on gifts, and to ask where the money comes from. “However, the [draft] amendment to the Constitution makes it illegal for us to do our jobs,” he said.

The legislation would even restrict the broadcast of a public figure's refusal to be interviewed. “I have never heard of a country that says you can’t record someone saying 'I don’t want to talk to you,'” said Patrick Butler of the Washington-based nonprofit International Center for Journalists. In the United States, Butler said, “we would certainly be able to record someone saying they don’t want to talk to us. We could continue to ask them questions and record their answers and refusal to talk to us. I think banning recording in public places without permission would severely restrict freedom of information.”

-- Kenan Aliyev

Supporters of Physicians For Human Rights have been engaging in an Internet and blogging campaign to raise awareness of the Alaei brothers' plight.
Rights activists and watchdog groups are marking the six-month anniversary of Iran's detention of internationally known HIV/AIDS researchers and educators Arash Alaei and Kamiar Alaei.

The two brothers have been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since late June 2008. According to their lawyer in Tehran, Masoud Shafie, the doctors were indicted this month on charges of communicating with an “enemy government.” They face from one to 10 years in prison, if convicted.

In an interview with Hannah Kaviani of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Jonathan Hutson, a spokesman for the watchdog group Physicians For Human Rights, says the charges against the doctors are "illegitimate and politically motivated" and should be dropped immediately.

Brothers Kamiar (left) and Arash Alaei
Hutson says the two have already been detained two months longer than Iranian penal code allows. They are eligible for bail, Hutson says, but the judge has neither set bail nor scheduled a bail hearing.

In the past, Hutson says, Iran has released such detainees only after an outcry of public support from many nations.

"So to be clear," he told Radio Farda, "it's not just people in the United States but people from many countries who are urging Iran to release these doctors so that they can continue their life-saving work for the benefit of Iran as well as for the people of the world."

Physicians for Human Rights says the charge against the Alaeis is likely to have a "chilling effect" on the Iranian medical community’s ability to share its work and learn from global experts.

More than 3,100 people from 85 countries have signed an online petition demanding their release, which can be viewed at IranFreeTheDocs.org.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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