BAKU, 10 September 2009 - The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, today criticized the continued imprisonment of media workers in Azerbaijan on "trumped-up charges" and called for the repeal of recently imposed restrictive media regulations, but added that he hoped statements made by the authorities in meetings signal that these trends will be reversed.
"The case of the two bloggers, Emin Abdullayev (Milli) and Adnan Hajizade, charged with hooliganism, demonstrates that law enforcement has not yet given up producing undue accusations against critically-minded media workers," said Haraszti following meetings in Baku.
He also referred to the cases of Eynulla Fatullayev and Ganimat Zahidov, whom he visited in prison. The two are Azerbaijan's best known independent newspaper editors who are serving long prison terms on charges such as terrorism, tax evasion and hooliganism.
During his visit Haraszti, together with Ambassador Bilge Cankorel, the Head of OSCE Office in Baku, met Ali Hasanov, the head of the Public and Political Issues Department of the Presidential Administration, Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mammad-Guliyevand and Commissioner for Human Rights Elmira Suleymanova.
"In my meetings with officials, I was assured that defamation will soon be decriminalized. I was also encouraged to hear that the presidential administration shares my concerns about the bloggers' case. I welcome these statements, and hope that Abdullayev and Hajizade may be released soon," Haraszti said.
"For Azerbaijan to improve its media freedom record, law enforcement should be firmly instructed to protect journalists instead of endangering them through harassment and trumped-up charges."
Haraszti stressed that urgent improvement was also needed regarding the ban imposed earlier this year on the BBC, Radio Free Europe and Voice of America from accessible FM waves, which gravely diminishes pluralism, and to new media law amendments which gave the government extended rights to interfere with the press.
Haraszti also urged authorities to release imprisoned journalists and publicly disclose information on the state of the investigation into the 2005 murder of investigative journalist Elmar Huseynov.
During his visit to Baku, Haraszti and Ambassador Cankorel also presented the Azerbaijani edition of the Media Self-regulation Guidebook, published by the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.