Journalists and activists were arrested and brutally attacked on Saturday, 17 November during an opposition protest in the Azerbaijani capital Baku.
Despite wearing clearly-marked press jackets, a number of independent reporters were assaulted, including Yeni Musavat newspaper correspondent Farahim Ilgaroglu, Turan Information Agency eporter Etimad Budagov, Media Forum correspondent Amid Suleymanov and Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) correspondent Rasim Aliyev.
There were also reports that those trying to photograph or video the protest were prevented from doing so — either through intimidation or direct violence. According to some reports, up to 30 opposition activists were arrested.
As part of its commitments to a number of human rights treaties including the European Convention on Human Rights, Azerbaijan must respect its citizens’ right to peaceful assembly. The reality is. different and opposition protests must be sanctioned before going ahead. Earlier this month, on 2 November, parliament accepted amendments that mean the fine for engaging in an illegal protest will substantially increase.
The incident followed the end of the week-long Internet Governance Forum in the Baku, which brought together government officials, technology industry leaders and civil society groups. Though prominent journalists Emin Milli (a former political prisoner) and Khadija Ismayilova (a victim of a blackmail attempt) took part in the forum, many saw this as a PR move designed to give the impression that the government is adopting a more tolerant attitude towards critical voices. This weekend’s events clearly demonstrate this is not the case — authorities have no intention of changing the way they deal with opposition activists. Neelie Kroes of the EU Commission tweeted:
Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) has condemned the attack on Azerbaijan’s independent media, and there have been calls for the government to conduct an immediate investigation.