Media outlets in Azerbaijan routinely deal with torture, assault, raids, imprisonment and endless intimidation, as verified reports submitted to Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project show.
“The years-long crackdown on the independent press by the regime of Ilham Aliyev has accelerated in recent months. This is clearly one of the world’s worst environments for press freedom and, consequently, for the public’s right to information,” Hannah Machlin, project manager for Mapping Media Freedom, said.
International media freedom rankings confirm the country’s stagnating record where autocratic repression is consistent, if not the functioning political system itself. Although authorities continue to claim that the majority of the country’s 147 political prisoners are criminals, religious radicals and tax evaders, the international community of rights watchdogs view it differently. A new wave of attacks against media freedom advocates, journalists and activists within the past two months alone illustrate a place where the primacy of Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, and his word overrides the primacy of the words of others, particularly his critics.
One such critic, Afgan Mukhtarli, an investigative journalist, disappeared on 29 May while on his way to his home in Tbilisi. Mukhtarli reappeared the next day across the border in Azerbaijan and was accused of illegal border crossing, smuggling (police allegedly found €12,000 on him) and resisting police. He was immediately sentenced to three months in pre-trial detention.
Speaking to Mapping Media Freedom, Mukhtarli’s wife Leyla Mustafayeva said she was relieved when she heard news of his arrest because after reporting her husband missing the day before, she had assumed he was dead. However, that is the only relief Mustafayeva has had since her husband’s kidnapping:
“I have no hope for the investigations. They have been stalled. They don’t want to investigate. Police allegedly cannot find any footage. The only video that was made available to our lawyer was shown two weeks after Mukhtarli’s disappearance and it’s just of my husband getting on the bus that usually takes him home.”
Mukhtarli’s case is unique in that his is the first cross-border operation alleged to be carried out in tandem with the Georgian government. While this has yet to be confirmed by officials in Georgia, Azerbaijani lawmaker and a member of the Parliament Human Rights Committee Elman Nasirov claimed Mukhtarli’s kidnapping was “the most successful operation carried out in recent years.” Nasirov also accused Mukhtarli of being a member of a far larger anti-Azerbaijan network.