Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Azerbaijan
As of December 31, 1998

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The end of official censorship was virtually the only positive development for the press this year. Unfortunately, this ostensible reform by the government of President Heydar Aliyev was overshadowed by the press freedom abuses that preceded and followed it.

After opposition parties threatened to withdraw from the October 11 presidential election if Aliyev failed to meet a variety of demands, including abolishing censorship, the president issued a decree on August 6 doing away with the General Directorate of State Secrets, known as GLAVLIT, its Soviet-era acronym. GLAVLIT had conducted business in violation of the 1992 Law on Mass Media as well as Articles 47 (freedom of opinions and convictions) and 50 (inadmissibility of censorship of the media) of the Azeri Constitution.

Following GLAVLIT's abolition, government officials said that a new body would be created to monitor reporting on topics deemed to be state secrets, although the details of its structure and its effect on the media had not been spelled out at year's end.

From August through the October 11 presidential election, which Aliyev won easily amidst claims of electoral abuses, journalists experienced some freedom to cover political events. Few, however, believed that this slight opening was permanent -- and it has not been. Although censorship is officially dead, authorities have found other ways to silence independent and opposition media.

Criminal and civil libel charges have become weapons of choice, leading to the proliferation of lawsuits against newspapers and journalists for "defaming the honor" of government officials. Although this is not a new form of harassment, there has been a noticeable rise in the number of libel suits filed since November 11, when the Milli Mejlis (Azerbaijan's parliament) issued a statement calling on the minister of information to take measures to prevent the media from publishing materials which insult the honor of President Aliyev. The opposition newspapers Azadliq, Yeni Musavat, Mukhalifat, and Khurriyet, among others, have been the defendants in civil law suits with fines collectively totaling millions of dollars, clearly intended to put them out of business. Editors of these and other newspapers also face criminal charges, most often under Article 121 of the penal code, which carries a sentence of up to three years for publishing false and dishonoring comments about public officials.

In addition to legal harassment, threats and violent assaults against editors and reporters continue to be common, as evidenced by the September 16 beating by police of 34 journalists who were covering an opposition rally in Baku.

The two state-owned television stations, AzTV-1 and AzTV-2, dominate the electronic media, and provide the population with most of its news. Several independent stations exist, although a tightening of private broadcasting regulations has forced them to narrow their coverage to a range of subjects acceptable to local authorities.
Attacks on the Press in Azerbaijan in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
12/15/98 Azer Guseinbala, Khurriyet Legal Action
12/15/98 Rauf Arifoglu, Yeni Musavat Legal Action
12/15/98 Gunduz Tairli, Azadliq Legal Action
12/15/98 Suleyman Osmanoglu, Mukhalifat Legal Action
12/15/98 Yeni Musavat Legal Action
12/14/98 Azadliq Legal Action
12/14/98 Gunduz Tairli, Azadliq Legal Action
12/05/98 Mahir Samedov, Ulus Legal Action
11/19/98 Yeni Musavat Legal Action
11/19/98 Ulus Legal Action
11/13/98 Esmira Namiqqizi, Yeni Musavat Attacked
11/13/98 Ilhama Namiqqizi, Yeni Musavat sugar poured in gas tank
11/13/98 Zamina Aliqizi, Yeni Musavat Attacked
11/13/98 Aynur Eyvazli, Yeni Musavat Attacked
11/09/98 Azadliq Legal Action
11/09/98 Yeni Musavat Legal Action
11/09/98 Sabina Avazqizi, Yeni Musavat Legal Action
11/09/98 Beyuqaga Agayev, Azadliq Legal Action
09/12/98 Azer Sariyev, Express Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Tahir Mamedov, Chag Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Rey Kerimoglu, Sharq Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Azer Rashidoglu, Ayna Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Faiq Qazanfaroglu, Millet Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Elman Maliyev, Khurriyet Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Mohammed Ersoy, Yurd Yeri Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Ibrahim Niyazli, Democratic Azerbaijan Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Anar Mammadli, Azerbaijan Gencleri Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Movsun Mammadov, Monitor magazine Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Rasul Mursaqulov, Chag Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Khalig Bahadur, Azadliq Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Ajdar, Azadliq Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Haji Zamin, Azadliq Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Sarvan Rizvanov, Azadliq Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Elmir Suleymanov, ANS TV Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Ilqar Shakhmaroglu, Qanun Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Nebi Rustamov, Qanun Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Taghi Yusifov, Qanun Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Shakhbaz Khuduoglu, Qanun Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Lachin Semra, Mukhalifat Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Tahir Pasha, Olaylar Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Natiq Javadli, Olaylar Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Taptyg Farkhadoglu,Turan news agency Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Movlud Javadov, Yeni Musavat Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Kamil Taghisoy, Yeni Musavat Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Shakhin Jafarli, Yeni Musavat Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Sebukhi Mammadli, Yeni Musavat Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Azer Qarachanli, Yeni Musavat Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Zamina Aliqizi, Yeni Musavat Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Eldaniz Badalov, Bu Gun Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Allakhverdi Donmez, Tezadlar Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Mekhseti Sherif, Rezonans Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Tunzale Rafiqqizi, Ana Veten Attacked, Harassed
09/12/98 Shahbaz Xuduoglu, Qanun magazine Harassed
09/12/98 Tahir Mamedov, Chag Harassed

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