A week after the Committee to Protect Journalists released
its special report on the current state of press freedom in Azerbaijan, "Finding Elmar's Killers," Ali
Hasanov, head of public affairs at the office of President Ilham Aliyev, told
has done enough work to attain political pluralism, freedom of expression and
of the press. We do not accept pretenses to the contrary. We do not accept
reports, no matter which international organization is their author. ... The
presentation of separate cases as a general tendency is, unfortunately,
evidence that this is being done in someone's interest, to benefit certain
This has been the typical reaction of Azerbaijani
authorities to international outcry against Baku's squeeze on independent reporting,
particularly in the run-up to the October 15 presidential vote. The incumbent
Aliyev is running against six virtual unknowns after the Azerbaijani opposition
decided to boycott
the vote to protest the passage of restrictive amendments to the election
law. Aliyev is expected to win.
CPJ was scheduled to meet with Hasanov in May during a
weeklong trip to Baku,
but his office cancelled the appointment at the last minute; Hasanov had to
take an emergency trip, his office said. Hasanov's aides also informed CPJ that
only he had the authority to approve a CPJ visit to imprisoned journalists Sakit Zakhidov,
Fatullayev, and Genimet Zakhidov.
The three are serving jail sentences on trumped-up charges of drug possession,
terrorism, and hooliganism, ranging from three to eight-and-a-half years in
prison. Their real crime, however, stems from their critical reporting and
Despite repeated calls to his office throughout CPJ's stay
in Baku, Hasanov was never available; CPJ's
request to visit the imprisoned journalists was also rebuffed by officials at
the penitentiary service of Azerbaijan's
Justice Ministry. The explanations given: a government fax machine was out of
paper and, therefore, CPJ's request was not received; the request was received,
but was addressed to the wrong mailbox and, therefore, could not be processed.
Last Wednesday, referring to the Zakhidov brothers and
Fatullayev, a journalist asked Hasanov: "Three journalists are still in custody.
Is their release to be expected or are authorities still considering them
dangerous criminals?" Hasanov responded with a question of his own: "What journalists
If authorities indeed do not consider these three men
journalists, then why do they act as though they fear their written word even
in jail? Sakit Zakhidov has resorted to writing his satirical poems and
commentary on torn pieces of bed sheets and pants because prison officials
refuse to give him paper. Several months ago, prison guards confiscated the
manuscript of a book Genimet Zakhidov was writing in jail. Officials refuse to
give Fatullayev opposition and independent newspapers.
Last Thursday, Fatullayev celebrated his 32nd birthday in
prison, but with lifted spirits. He had heard all about CPJ's special report,
his father, Emin Fatullayev, said, and was feeling optimistic and grateful for CPJ's
attention to his ordeal. Isakhan Ashurov, Fatullayev's defense lawyer, is also
optimistic--the European Court of Human Rights started the review of his client's
case in priority mode. A prompt review of the case by Strasbourg is one of the recommendations in
CPJ's special report.