Azerbaijani journalist brutally attacked
In Azerbaijan five independent reporters, including award-winning journalist Idrak Abbasov, were brutally assaulted just weeks before the Eurovision Song Contest.
Sunday, 29 April 2012, by HRH London, based on Article 19, HRHF, Index on Censorship and Committee to Protect Journalists
Index on Censorship reports that on 18 April five independent reporters, including award-winning journalist Idrak Abbasov, were brutally assaulted in Baku. Idrak Abbasov is still still in hospital, diagnosed with cranial trauma, damage to his right eye, two broken ribs, and three fractured ribsIdrak Abbasov. "I feel like a soccer ball after the game, that's how they beat me. I have pain all over my body", Abbasov told CPJ from a hospital bed. One week on from his attack, his vision is blurred and the full extent of his head trauma remains unknown. He will not be discharged for at least another two weeks, Index on Censorship reports.
On 18 April, around 11 a.m. local time, security officers with the state oil company SOCAR attacked and beat five journalists who were covering demolition of houses in the Sulutepe suburb of Baku, Emin Huseynov, director of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), told CPJ.
The energy company has been taking down the buildings, which it claims were built illegally on its land, Huseynov said.
Abbasov, a journalist with IRFS and the Baku-based independent newspaper Zerkalo, was knocked unconscious. Police, who were present at the scene, did not interfere in the attack on Abbasov, his brother told the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel.
Three other reporters – Esmir Dzhavadova with the Azeri service of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Galib Hasanov with the independent online broadcaster Obyektiv-TV, and Elnur Mammedov of IRFS – arrived at the demolition site after Abbasov, and were also beaten and had their car damaged by SOCAR employees, Huseynov told CPJ.
Abbasov's brother, Adalyat Abbasov, who was on the scene, tried to stop the journalists' beating but was assaulted himself, and was also hospitalised with a broken rib, Huseynov said.
Idrak Abbasov is well known for his coverage of human rights violations and official wrongdoings. He and his family have suffered harassment and physical attacks in retaliation for his work.
Less than a month ago, Abbasov was in London, collecting the Index on Censorship award for investigative journalism. Reflecting on the increasing restrictions on Azerbaijan’s struggling independent media, Idrak acknowledged that “For the sake of this right [to the truth] we accept that our lives are in danger, as are the lives of our families”.
Abbasov was visited in hospital on April 25 by a group of SOCAR officials who told him they would be leading an investigation into the incident. The Binagady Police Department has also launched a criminal case based on charges of hooliganism, to which Abbasov objects. “This wasn’t hooliganism; this is an Article 163 case, obstruction of the lawful activities of a journalist”.
Eurovision coming up
The attack on the reporters has taken place weeks before Baku is to host the Eurovision international song contest in May. Ahead of the contest, President Ilham Aliyev has criticised negative coverage of Azerbaijan's human rights record in the international media and has claimed that his country is democratic and has freedom of speech.
The day after the incident, the Ministry of Internal Affairs released a statement reporting that “200-250 residents of the settlement beat and injured [SOCAR] employees”, naming Abbasov “a local resident”.
"With seven journalists already in jail and the dust only just settling following the high profile attempted blackmail of leading investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova, independent media outlets and NGOs are starting to worry about what will happen after Eurovision, once Azerbaijan is no longer under the international spotlight", says Celia Davies, a Program Development Manager at the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety in Baku, Azerbaijan.
"Many fear that there will be a backlash against all those who have spoken out against human rights and free expression violations – and that once Eurovision is over, Azerbaijan will drop off the international agenda", she added.
Kazakh journalist stabbed and shot
A Kazakh journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov from Uralskaya nedelya was stabbed and shot by three unknown assailants outside his home on the night of 19-20 April. Akhmedyarov is known for his criticism of the government and participation in protests.
“This vicious attack on a prominent journalist like Lukpan Akhmedyarov is a severe blow to the Kazakh journalistic community. It proves once more the vulnerability of those who dare to express their opinions publicly in Kazakhstan”, said Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of Article 19.
Akhmedyarov received eight knife wounds in the chest near his heart and was shot twice. He has undergone a three-hour surgery, and his condition remains serious. The Interior Department in Western Kazakhstan has begun an investigation into the attack which has been labelled as an "intention to attempt homicide", and called on the public to help them to identify the assailants in return for a reward, Article 19 reports.
“Unless those responsible are brought to justice, this attack will add to the already existing climate of fear persistent in Kazakhstan. Impunity for such attacks increases the vulnerability of those members of the journalistic community speaking out, and without adequate protection mechanisms in place, are left fending for themselves”, added Agnès Callamard.
Akhmedyarov’s colleagues believe the attack to have been linked to the victim’s public and professional activities. In recent days, Akhmedyarov has reported that he and his family have been subjected to pressure and threats.
The local media cited Tamara Yeslyamova, Editor-in-Chief of Uralskaya nedelya, as saying: “Two days ago one of the managers of the company where his [Akhmedyarov’s] wife is working called her office and demanded that her husband stop organising gatherings, saying that KNB (the National Security Committee) officers would come to talk to him about this”.
“All the information concerning his professional and private life, as well as his civic activism, permits us to conclude that this attack was done in revenge for his critical publications against the authorities and corrupt big business”, said Tamara Kaleyeva, president of the local press freedom group Adil Soz.
Akhmedyarov opposed the current government both in his reporting and his active civic stance. In January 2012, he gathered along with dozens of other people in front of the building of Akimat (local administration) in Uralsk. The participants protested against the referendum proposed to legitimise the extension of President Nazarbayev’s term of office. Together with other protesters, he was taken to the local Interior Department. After facing administrative charges, Akhmedyarov was fined KZT 15 thousand (approx. USD 100) and detained for five days.
He also was one of the organisers of the 24 March gathering called “the Day of those who are against” dedicated to the 100-day anniversary of the riots that had taken place in Zhanaozen in which the government was accused of killing at least 17 people.
Uralskaya nedelya is one of the few independent newspapers operating in Kazakhstan (www.uralskweek.kz). During the time that it has been in operation, it has repeatedly faced lawsuits for reporting public interest stories about the local authorities.
Article 19 joins with national press freedom groups in calling upon the Kazakh Office of the Prosecutor General to ensure an independent, transparent, and thorough investigation.
Editor of Kazakh weekly imprisoned for two months
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that on April 26 the Almalinsky District Court in the city of Almaty indicted Igor Vinyavsky, editor of the independent weekly Vzglyad, on criminal charges of "making public calls to violently overthrow Kazakhstan's constitutional regime", and ordered his pretrial imprisonment for two months.
The KNB (the Kazakh National Security Committee) detained Vinyavsky on April 23 after KNB agents raided his apartment, as well as Vzglyad's offices, and confiscated all computers and reporting equipment, the weekly's staff told CPJ. The KNB opened a criminal case against Vinyavsky on the same day.
In April 2010, Almaty police confiscated a number of leaflets that investigators said had been authored by Vinyavsky, according to news reports. Local newspapers reported that the charges against the editor were not backed by any evidence. In addition, it is not clear how the investigators had established Vinyavsky's authorship of the leaflets; besides, they did not explain why the editor was being charged with committing a crime through mass media.
CPJ research shows that the most recent media crackdown in Kazakhstan stemmed from critical coverage of deadly clashes between police and oil workers in the western town of Zhanaozen on December 16, 2011.
CPJ calls on Kazakh authorities to release Igor Vinyavsky immediately and scrap the case against him.
HRH London, based on Article 19, HRHF, Index on Censorship and Committee to Protect Journalists
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