Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on French authorities to protect an exiled Azerbaijani video blogger who was stabbed more than 10 times in an attack in France 10 days ago and later received a threatening text message on his phone.
A refugee in France since 2016, Mahammad Mirzali was beaten and stabbed on March 14 by a group of men while walking in the western city of Nantes -- the latest incident targeting the blogger or his family in what the Paris-based media freedom watchdog on March 24 called attempts to “silence” the blogger.
Mirzali had to undergo an operation that lasted “more than six hours,” Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in a statement, adding that “the Azerbaijani regime is exporting its persecution of freedom of expression to France and to Europe.”
French police have not commented on their investigation.
“This is the last warning,” said the text in Azerbaijani that the blogger received on March 21, RSF said.
“We can kill you without any problem. You’ve seen that we’re not afraid of anyone.... If you continue to insult our sisters, we’ll have you killed with a bullet to the head fired by a sniper,” read the text, which was signed “Andres Gragmel.”
According to RSF, Mirzali is “often targeted” because of the videos he posts on his YouTube channel, Made In Azerbaijan, in which he criticizes Azerbaijan’s authoritarian President Ilham Aliyev, his wife, Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva, and other members of their family.
In October 2020, several shots were fired at the blogger in Nantes.
His father and brother-in-law were detained in 2017. Police reportedly told the two men to pressure Mirzali to stop his criticism of the government.
“The regime also resorted to sex-tape blackmail,” RSF said, sending intimate images of one of his sisters to the entire family in early March and then circulating them via a Telegram channel.
Azerbaijan is ranked 168th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
“Most critical media outlets have been silenced or have had to relocate abroad, the main independent websites are blocked, and at least two journalists are currently in prison,” RSF said.