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EU Shines Light On Azeri Media

Vytautas Landsbergis
Vytautas Landsbergis
Former Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis says that deteriorating media freedom in Azerbaijan reminds him of the Soviet period and that it is time for Baku to choose whether it wants to follow the European path, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Landsbergis, a former dissident who became Lithuania's first president after it regained independence, is now an MEP and one of the most prominent co-initiators of a draft resolution condemning the worsening media climate in Azerbaijan.

The draft motion for a resolution is to be discussed and voted on in the European Parliament on December 17, during a session devoted to breaches of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

Landsbergis said Azerbaijan was walking on thin ice regarding its commitments to democratization and improvement of media freedom.

"[There were] too many events, in a short time, worsening the situation in Azerbaijan but also damaging the good name and opinion about Azerbaijan in [the European] Union," Landsbergis told RFE/RL, citing the ban of foreign broadcasters and cases of journalists who remain in jail.

"It looks like [the] Soviet Union in old times."

The draft resolution urges Azerbaijani authorities to "address the lack of police investigation into cases of violence and harassment against journalists and the fact that many crimes have so far gone unpunished."

The document also stresses the importance of the swift decriminalization of defamation that often serve as legal means to jail dissident writers and journalists or impose self-censorship.

It also "deplores" the jailing last month of bloggers Adnan Hajizada and Emin Mili on the basis of "highly unlikely criminal charges" and calls for their immediate release.

Hajizada and Mili, who had written critically about Azerbaijan's government, were convicted of hooliganism charges in a case international rights groups say is politically motivated.

"We would like to see Azerbaijan on a constant progress path, approaching the European Union by all points, including standards in media," Landsbergis said.

"When [these] standards are not met, we are upset and we wish to talk about it openly to our friends."

He said it was time for Baku to decide where it wished to belong.

"This resolution should be considered as a warning and call for Azerbaijani authorities not to build any doubts about the line chosen by Azerbaijan -- if it made its choice for a European direction," he said.