September 6, 2011 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Stepping up harassment of media, Nakhchivan expels Azerbaijani reporter

Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the unacceptable escalation in harassment of the media by the authorities in Nakhchivan, an autonomous Azerbaijani exclave between Armenia and Iran, especially last week’s expulsion of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reporter Yafez Hasanov (Яфез Xасанов). Hasanov was abducted on 31 August by three unidentified men in plain-clothes using the kind of car that government security officials normally drive. They drove him to the Iranian border and told him to return to the Azerbaijani capital of Baku via Iran. If he set foot in Nakhchivan during the next month, “it will cost you,” they told him. “After death threats and intimidation, Nakhchivan’s authorities are displaying exceptional inventiveness in expanding their already complete repressive arsenal against the media,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Their latest invention, deporting a journalist from his own country to one that criminalizes journalism, shows a complete contempt for legal appearances and a feeling of complete impunity. How far will they have to go before the central government and the international community decide to do something to half this escalation?” Hasanov had gone to the Julfa district of Nakhchivan to investigate Turac Zeynalov’s death (see below) in detention, a story that the local authorities are trying at all costs to suppress because it exposes the cruelty of the methods they use. Hasanov’s abductors told him not to meddle, took his passport and returned it with an exit stamp when they reached the border. Once inside Iran, Hasanov managed to return to Baku by taxi the next day. This entailed a degree of risk as RFE/ RL has been classified as an “illegal organization” by the Iranian authorities. Malahat Nasibova (Малахат Насибовa - see below), a Nakhchivan-based reporter for the independent news agency Turan, has meanwhile been subjected to intense pressure since receiving a summons from the Ministry of National Security (MNS) for trying to interview members of the Zeynalov family. She and her husband have received death threats by telephone and SMS in recent days. After she reported that an MNS official had called her an “enemy of the people,” the official’s mother threatened her yesterday outside her home. “Who are you to quote my son’s name on the Internet,” the woman said. “You will see what I can do to you. You can do nothing against us. The MNS supports us.” At a news conference on 2 September, Nasibova described the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic as a “laboratory of repression” for the rest of the country. “The repressive methods tested in Nakhchivan are then applied on a larger scale throughout Azerbaijan,” she said. “It was in Nakhchivan that demonstrators were first confined to a psychiatric hospital. It was in Nakhchivan that journalists were kidnapped for the first time.” There was no comment from the government in Baku in response to her comments about human rights violations in this remote province. The deafening silence makes an international reaction all the more urgent, so that violations of this kind do not spread to the rest of the country. Reporters Without Borders joins Nasibova and other journalists and human rights activists in urging the national media and foreign embassy personnel to go to Nakhchivan in order to shed light on these unacceptable practices. ----- 30.08.2011 - Authorities in lawless Nakhchivan impose news blackout on detainee’s death Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the way that security officials in Nakhchivan – an autonomous Azerbaijani exclave between Armenia and Iran – have been harassing journalists in an attempt to impose a news blackout on a death in detention and the disappearance of four other young people who had been summoned for questioning. “After eliminating almost all the sources of news and information, Nakhchivan’s security services are carrying out intolerable human rights abuses with complete impunity,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The few independent journalists working there are under a great deal of pressure. The death of a citizen in detention one day after his arrest and the disappearance of four other people are test for the government of Azerbaijan, which signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE.” “If the central government in Baku wants to demonstrate its sovereignty over Nakhchivan and it respect for its international obligations, it must immediately ensure that the media are able to operate there and it must rein in the regional authorities, who are resorting to increasingly violent authoritarian methods.” Journalists ran into problems when they tried to investigate the death in detention of Turac Zeynalov, a resident of Arazin, a village in the district of Julfa. While interviewing Zeynalov’s relatives, they were accosted by members of the Ministry of National Security (MNS), who tried to seize their cameras and microphones. Malahat Nasibova, a reporter for the independent news agency Turan, was insulted by an MNS official and accused of collaborating with “the nation’s enemies.” She was then summoned for questioning at MNS headquarters but decided not to go. Reporters Without Borders is concerned about her safety. Zeynalov did not return after responding to an MNS summons on 24 August. His relatives went to the ministry’s headquarters the next day and found his body. It bore the marks of severe beating and torture, especially on the head and face. Officials admitted “slapping him once or twice to teach him a lesson” but an MNS statement said he died “as a result of a cancer.” The family has not received any medical certificate about the cause of death and all their requests for information have met with silence from the authorities. The MNS claimed that Zeynalov committed “high treason” by spying for neighbouring Iran but no evidence of this has been produced and Nakhchivan’s authorities have refused to make any other comment aside from cautioning against “rumours.” In response to questions from journalists, the Azerbaijani interior minister in Baku said “Baku cannot interfere in Nakhchivan’s affairs.” It was the news agency Turan that reported that four other young people have disappeared after recently being summoned by the MNS. An increase in tension between Azerbaijan and Iran is just the latest pretext for a crackdown in Nakhchivan, where harassment of journalists has been on the increase recently (see below). Arbitrary detention, confinement in psychiatric hospitals and torture are all common in this autonomous territory.