BAKU -- A journalist in Azerbaijan is under pressure after filming and reporting on what she said appeared to be election fraud.
A court in Baku on June 10 began hearings into a libel lawsuit filed against Sevinc Vaqifqizi, a reporter working for online media outlets Meydan TV and Azadliq.info.
The libel complaint was filed by a deputy principal at a secondary school in Baku, Elmira Alandarova, who claims the journalist damaged her reputation during coverage of a snap presidential election in April 2018.
Vaqifqizi filmed activities at a polling station in a school where Alandarova appeared to be organizing voting by several people who cast ballots at multiple polling stations.
Alandarova claims Vaqifqizi humiliated her and damaged her professional reputation by introducing her in a video report as person who was managing a so-called carousel operation on election day.
Carousel operations are a form of organized election fraud in which the same people vote multiple times by traveling to different polling stations.
Alandarova is demanding a retraction of the report along with the removal from the Internet of all the video footage. She has also demanded that Vaqifqizi apologize to her for reporting what she said was "false information" and to pay damages of 2,500 Azerbaijani manats, or about $1470.
In the video footage, Alandarova is seen at two separate voting stations.
Alandarova did not take part in the June 10 court hearing.
Instead, she was represented by her husband, who said Alandarova had been invited to the school on election day by a schoolmaster in order to control the schoolyard and classrooms.
Vaqifqizi told the court she observed Alandarova’s movements on election day and concluded she was directing a carousel operation after witnessing Alandarova directing several people at the polling stations.
The court session was scheduled to resume on June 11.
Alandarova initially appealed to the Baku main police department in 2018 and asked for criminal proceedings to be launched against the journalist. Her complaint was rejected after authorities determined no crime had been committed by Vaqifqizi.
Incumbent President Ilham Aliyev won the early presidential election held on April 11, 2018.
International observers concluded that the vote was conducted in a restrictive political environment and without genuine competition. They also concluded that freedom of expression was not ensured in Azerbaijan during the election campaign and that other candidates had refrained from criticizing Aliyev.