Despite high profile releases of detainees, there has been no let-up in the harassment of independent journalists in Azerbaijan.
Rovshan Zahidov, a cousin of Zahid, and Rufat Zahidov, a nephew, were finally sentenced on 28 June after spending nearly a year in pre-trial detention. Now living in exile, Zahid hosts a TV programme called Azerbaycan Saati and edits the daily Azadlig.
This case is far from isolated. When they can no longer directly target independent journalists, opposition members or human rights defenders who have fled the country, the authorities resort to every kind of judicial, financial or social pressure on family members who have stayed behind.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has been documenting and drawing attention to these methods for years.
“We were expecting this sentence or even worse,” Zahid said. “There is nothing surprising about it. We are used to such arbitrary behaviour by the state. Personally, I regard this trend as ‘state terror,’ something that began well before the trial of my relatives. Unfortunately, the government adopted these tactics long ago.
Zahid added: “It seems that, in addition to my journalistic activities, I will now have to (...) launch an extended international debate on the subject of state terror in Azerbaijan. I think the term ‘terror’ is perfectly appropriate when people are taken hostage in an act of revenge against others or against society in its entirety.”
Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk said. “The Aliyev regime continues to wage an all-out war on media freedom. It may be releasing a few well-known journalists one by one, but it continues to arrest others at will, without any change in the cruelty of its oppressive methods. The international community must keep demanding the restoration of pluralism and an end to despotism in Azerbaijan.”
Azerbaijan is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.