On 24 January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted the resolution on attacks against journalists and media freedom in Europe. HRHF thanks MPs for recognising the need to strengthen this resolution, by adopting amendments that specifically call on the Azerbaijani authorities to stop targeting the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), cease their harassment of IRFS chairman Mehman Huseynov, drop the criminal case against Meydan TV, and lift all investigations against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
In the amendments, the Assembly further expressed concern at “legal proceedings, travel bans and restrictions on freedom of movement imposed on [Khadija Ismayilova] and on other journalists in Azerbaijan with the aim of preventing them from carrying out their independent work.”
Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy at HRHF, commented: “These strong amendments on Azerbaijan compensate for an initially weak resolution. The authorities in Azerbaijan continue to believe that they can arrest anybody at any given time for any reason. They now must abide by the resolution adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly, and stop attacking Mehman Huseynov, lift the travel ban on Khadija Ismayilova, and cease harassing IRFS. It is also essential that the Council of Europe further addresses this climate of impunity for violations against journalists and human rights defenders.”
In addition to specific calls on Azerbaijan, the Assembly also expressed concern at the threats to media freedom in the Russian Federation, the Crimean Peninsula occupied by Russia, and in the eastern parts of Ukraine. It also called specifically for an investigation into the murder of journalist Pavel Sheremet in Kyiv.
The Assembly raised particular concern at the “the dramatic situation of media and journalists in Turkey,” and parliamentarians also discussed the media situation in Hungary, Poland, Georgia and Belarus.
The resolution comes two years after the Council of Europe voted to set up a platform to promote and protect journalists. Since the platform was launched in April 2015, the Council of Europe has been alerted to the violent killings of 16 journalists, including Rasim Aliyev and Pavel Sheremet, and a total of 254 attacks on journalists.
Attacks on IRFS
Emin Huseynov, IRFS’ founder, was forced into hiding in August 2014 to ensure his protection amid a wave of repression in Azerbaijan. He was later officially charged, and these politically motivated criminal charges forced him to leave the country in June 2015. While Emin Huseynov was in hiding, journalist Rasim Aliyev was appointed chairman of IRFS – he was attacked by a group of unknown individuals and died from his injuries.
Mehman Huseynov, IRFS’ current chairman, was detained in Baku, Azerbaijan, on 9 January 2017. Human Rights House Foundation alerted the international community and called for action, raised attention to his case and attacks on other journalists and human rights defenders in an op-ed for Meydan TV, and with other rights organisations issued a joint statement demanding justice for Mehman Huseynov.
PACE and Azerbaijan
In June 2015, HRHF organised a side event at PACE: Azerbaijan: A Year of Attempts to Hide Dire Human Rights Record.
In its June 2015 resolution, PACE expressed concern over the detention of Khadija Ismayilova, the criminal charges against Emin Huseynov, and the closure of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Baku in December 2014.
Attacks on media in Azerbaijan
On World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2016, Sports for Rights and 18 international NGOs condemned the Azerbaijani authorities’ relentless crackdown on independent media and other critical voices.