Arrest of prominent free expression advocate, restrictions on NGOs further erode media freedom in Azerbaijan, says OSCE representative
VIENNA, 5 August 2014 – OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović today voiced concern about continuing hostility toward the media in Azerbaijan following the arrest on 2 August of Rasul Jafarov, a free expression advocate and human rights defender.
Mijatović also said the criminal charges against NGOs supporting media freedom in Azerbaijan, effectively suspending their work, were alarming.
“These actions appear to be part of a campaign of targeted suppression of free expression and free media,” Mijatović said. “I call on the authorities to immediately release Jafarov and stop persecution of critical voices.”
According to reports, in May the Prosecutor General’s Office launched a criminal investigation alleging abuse of power and forgery involving representatives of foreign and local NGOs, including Denmark-based International Media Support and US-based IREX, both of which support media freedom projects in Azerbaijan. Their bank accounts have been frozen.
The bank accounts of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), an Azerbaijani media NGO and recipient of media-assistance funds, and its founders also have been frozen. As a result, IRFS had to suspend its activities.
“Media NGOs provide essential support to journalists and the whole media industry,” Mijatović said. “Any actions to intimidate them and interfere with their activities go against OSCE commitments and create a chilling effect on those who champion freedom of the media.”
The Representative also expressed regret that Azadliq, a newspaper well-known for its critical reporting, has been forced to suspend publication apparently due to ongoing financial difficulties.