Update - 19.04.2012: The International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan (IPGA) wrote to President Ilham Aliyev today asking him ensure that an independent and transparent investigation is launched into the brutal attack on investigative journalist Idrak Abbasov. Read the letter:
18.04.2012 - Independent journalist beaten unconscious by state oil company guards
Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns the vicious beating that independent journalist Idrak Abbasov received today from security guards employed by the state oil company SOCAR when he filmed SOCAR’s demolition of houses near his home on the outskirts of Baku. He was hospitalized in a serious condition after being beaten unconscious.
“We are appalled by this brutal attack, which left Abbasov in an alarming condition,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is all the most regrettable as it could have been avoided if the required attention had been paid to the harassment to which Abbasov and his family have been subjected for months.
“The authorities must take immediate and energetic action to identify and punish those responsible. Any other response would leave them shouldering a large part of the blame for this attack, which is typical of the insensitive handling of the real estate transformation under way in and around the capital.”
A correspondent for Zerkalo and the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Abbasov was filming SOCAR’s demolition operations and protests by residents near his home in Sulutapa, a village in Binagadi district, at around midday, when several SOCAR employees seized his camera, threw him to the ground and kicked him repeatedly.
Several other journalists, including Yeni Musavat correspondent Gunay Musayeva, were also attacked. According to the information available, the police have not as yet begun an investigation.
Abbasov lost a lot of blood in the attack which left him unconscious. He was hospitalized with concussion, multiple fractures and an eye injury. Tests are currently being carried out but doctors said that Abbasov’s injuries, although serious, are not life-threatening. They were, however, concerned about the possibility that he might be suffering internal bleeding.
Abbasov and his family have been harassed for months. Index on Censorship, a London-based organization that defends freedom of expression, awarded him its 2012 prize for his tenacity in covering the illegal expropriation and demolition of homes in his village.
Human rights activist Leyla Yunus of the Institute for Peace and Democracy also continues to be hounded for denouncing illegal evictions and demolition in and around Baku. Yesterday, police went to her apartment with the aim of carrying out a search and identifying all those present. But as they had no warrant and Yunus was not there, those present refused to let them in. The premises of Yunus’ NGO were demolished last summer.
The attack on Abbasov came two days after President Ilham Aliev criticized an “information war” at the end of a cabinet meeting. Responding to growing criticism of systematic human rights abuses in Azerbaijan, which is ranked 162nd out of 179 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Aliev said, “We have democracy, freedom expression, freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “Next month’s Eurovision song contest in Baku, which the government hopes will crown its efforts to improve Azerbaijan’s international image, must be used to turn the spotlight on the critical situation for the country’s human rights defenders and independent journalists.”
(Photo: Agency Turan)