Reporters Without Borders (RSF) staged a demonstration outside Azerbaijan’s embassy in Paris today to celebrate Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova’s 40th birthday and to tell her government that her release two days ago is just the first step towards ending media freedom violations in Azerbaijan.
Ismayilova was freed after a court suspended her jail sentence but she continues to be subject to judicial control and cannot leave the country. At least eight other journalists and bloggers are still detained in connection with their reporting while independent media outlets are forced to operate in exile and are still hounded.
“In releasing Khadija Ismayilova after 537 days of arbitrary detention, the Azerbaijani government has given a bit of ground but is still far from behaving as it should towards media freedom,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The international community must keep up the pressure until Baku stops harassing independent media, restores pluralism and frees all imprisoned journalists.”
RSF also took part in a similar demonstration yesterday in Washington and today in Berlin. And many other activities are being organized throughout the world today as part of the Sport for Rights coalition, which groups the leading human rights organizations involved with Azerbaijan.
On the day Ismayilova was freed, 25 May, the photographer Elnur Mukhtarov was arrested and was sentenced to ten days of administrative detention. He had covered an anti-government protest and had posted his photos on Facebook. He joins the other journalists and bloggers held in connection with their reporting. They include:
- Seymur Khazi, a reporter for the daily Azadlig and the TV programme “Azerbaycan Saati,” arrested on 29 August 2014.
- Arshad Ibrahimov, a contributor to the Moderator.az and Avrupa.info news websites, arrested 18 June 2014.
- Abdul Abilov, a blogger arrested on 22 November 2013.
- Rashad Ramazanov, a blogger arrested on 9 May 2013.
- Shaig Agayev, a blogger arrested on 9 May 2013.
- Araz Guliyev, the editor of the Xeber44 news website, arrested on 8 September 2012.
- Nijat Aliyev, the editor of the Azadxeber news website, arrested on 20 May 2012.
There is no limit to the harassment of journalists in Azerbaijan who work for “Azerbaycan Saati,” a TV programme produced abroad, and Meydan TV, a TV station based abroad. As they cannot touch their editors, Ganimat Zahid and Emin Milli, the authorities persecute members of their families inside Azerbaijan. Several have been jailed on trumped-up charges while others have been forced to publicly disown Zahid and Milli.
Azerbaijan is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.