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Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (file photo)

The Azerbaijani government has given 255 apartments to journalists to mark National Press Day on July 22, the Xalq Qazeti newspaper reported.

The Azerbaijani government has given 255 apartments to journalists to mark National Press Day on July 22, the Xalq Qazeti newspaper reported.

President Ilham Aliyev said at a ceremony in Baku to award apartments to the journalists that "Azerbaijani journalism develops and plays a very positive role in the society. Freedom of speech...is ensured in Azerbaijan."

But international rights organizations and media freedom groups have harshly criticized the Azerbaijani government for clamping down on independent media outlets and for trumping up charges against nonstate journalists.

The U.S.-based media watchdog Freedom House classifies the media in Azerbaijan as "not free," and Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 162 out of 180 countries in its annual World Press Freedom Index for 2017.

RFE/RL Baku correspondent Khadija Ismayilova, who was jailed after publishing reports of corruption within the Azerbaijani president's extended family, praised those journalists who "overcame their yearnings and did not receive flats as a bribe."

She added that "your home is in our hearts!"

National Press Day in Azerbaijan is held to mark the publication of the first Azeri-language newspaper, Akinci, in 1875.

Based on reporting by the BBC and eurasia.net

Poland's Senate on July 22 defied the European Union and approved legislation giving political leaders substantial control over the judiciary.

Poland's Senate on July 22 defied the European Union and approved legislation giving political leaders substantial control over the judiciary.

The bill sponsored by the nation's populist ruling party now needs only the signature of President Andrzej Duda to become law. Duda has adhered to the ruling party line up to now.

The 55-23 vote was booed by protesters gathered in front of the Senate building in Warsaw.

EU leaders have criticized the bill for impairing judicial independence and threatening the rule of law. Poland is the largest of the former Soviet bloc states who joined the union after the fall of communism.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law and Justice party, argues that the judiciary still functions as it did during the communist era and harbors many judges from that time. Communist rule ended in 1989.

He says the justice system needs "radical changes."

The legislation calls for firing current Supreme Court judges, except those approved by the president, and it gives the president power to regulate the courts.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has dismissed the EU criticisms, saying the legislation is an internal matter and the government will not bow to any foreign pressure.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

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About This Blog

"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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