These days we speak a lot about freedom of choice, religion, anything else but in fact there are still many countries where the freedom of expression is endangered. Azerbaijan is among them.
Long ago, in October 2010, the Human Rights Watch published a report ‘Beaten, Blacklisted, and Behind Bars: The Vanishing Space for Freedom of Expression in Azerbaijan’ with proves of country’s senior government officials frequently using criminal defamation and other charges against journalists and human rights defenders criticizing the government. What had changed today?
The answer will disappoint you because absolutely nothing had changed. In January 2017 one of Azerbaijan’s most popular and independent journalists and bloggers, Mehman Huseynov, was attacked by a group of plain-clothes officers in Baku. The attackers bound his eyes and mouth with towels and put a bag over his head, used electroshock weapon on his groin and punched him. Then he was stuffed into a car and the police drove him for four hours before finally he was taken to the Nasimi district police station and formally arrested. Later he was charged and found guilty of disobeying police orders and fined $120. In fact Huseynov was abducted from the street and since that moment, over a period of a few days, his relatives and friends have no idea of his whereabouts. The reason of Huseynov’s ‘experience’ is his report on corruption by senior government officials. And that is not a single and unique case.
Azerbaijan’s government suppresses all forms of media and independent journalism by putting restrictions on their ability to use video, photo and sound recording without explicit consent of an individual even at public events. Also all foreign broadcasting FM radio stations were banned since 2009. The Press Council regularly publishes the black lists of media resources and people to avoid the fact-based coverage of events and limit people’s access to the information. This way, everyone who criticizes the government risk violence, threats and harassment just like Huseynov did.
Under the international law Azerbaijan has specific legal obligations to protect the freedom of expression as a fundamental human right, essential to the effective functioning of a democratic society and individual dignity. However, Azrbaijan continues its malpractice and for the unknown reason avoids any responsibility in the face of international community.