“Meydan TV and its staff have been ruthlessly targeted by Azerbaijani authorities. The charges invoked against Meydan TV are of similar nature to the charges that were used to send journalists and government critics to prison,” said Index senior advocacy officer Melody Patry. “This investigation confirms the government has no intention of changing its approach toward independent media and free expression in the country.”
Meydan TV reported today that Azerbaijani authorities launched a criminal probe against them for “alleged illegal practice and profit-making in an especially large amount, large-scale tax evasion and abuse of power resulting in falsification of elections and/or referendum results”.
The case against Meydan TV’s executives was filed by the General Prosecutor Office of Grave Crimes Investigation Department.
Harassment of Meydan TV and its journalists is not new. Meydan TV staff and their relatives have been facing extensive pressure ranging from threats to detention. 2013 Freedom of Expression Journalism Award-winning newspaper Azadliq was forced to stop printing and has teetered on the edge of bankruptcy as well.
Rahim Haciyev, editor of Azerbaijani newspaper Azadliq, holds up a copy at the 2014 Index awards (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)
Index award-winning newspaper Azadliq, widely recognised as one of the last remaining independent news outlets operating inside the country, is facing imminent closure. This comes amid an ongoing crackdown on critical journalists and human rights activists in Azerbaijan, and as the country is hosting the inaugural European Games in the capital Baku.
A statement from the paper, quoted Thursday on news site Contact, outlined its “difficult financial situation”.
“If the problems are not resolved in the shortest possible time, the publication of the newspaper will be impossible,” it read.
“The closure of an independent media outlet like Azadliq, which Azerbaijani officials have suffocated over the past two years, flies in the face of repeated assurances from President Ilham Aliyev that his government respects press freedom. The fact that this financial crisis is occurring during the Baku European Games just underlines the shameful disregard that the Azerbaijani government has for freedom of expression,” said Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg.
Azadliq has long faced an uphill battle to stay in business. Thursday’s statement merely detailed the latest development in a serious financial crisis, brought about at the hands of Azerbaijani authorities.
In July 2014, Azadliq was forced to suspend print publication. Editor Rahim Haciyev told Index that the government-backed distributor had refused to pay out the some £52,000 it owed the paper, which meant it could not pay its printer.
The paper has also seen its finances squeezed through being banned from selling copies on tube stations and the streets of Baku, and being slapped with fines of some £52,000 following defamation suits in 2013. The paper was also evicted from its offices in 2006 and its journalists have been repeatedly targeted by authorities. Seymur Hezi, for instance, was in January sentenced to five years in prison for “aggravated hooliganism” — charges widely dismissed as trumped up and politically motivated.
Azadliq — meaning “freedom” in Azerbaijani — has appealed to the public for help to stay afloat, urging “those who defend the freedom of speech in Azerbaijan” to join in the campaign to save the paper.
Azerbaijani journalist Seymur Hezi, who works for Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award-winning newspaper Azadliq, has been sentenced to five years imprisonment for “aggravated hooliganism”, according to Azadlıq Radiosu.
“Index condemns the sentencing of Azerbaijani journalist Seymur Hezi, who was arrested last year on trumped up charges of disorderly conduct. The ‘crime’ for which he is actually being punished is journalism and his attempts to tell the truth about a brutal authoritarian regime that systematically stifles dissent,” Index CEO Jodie Ginsberg said.
Hezi’s sentencing is another sign of the continuing clampdown by Azerbaijan’s authoritarian government on civil society. Earlier this week, investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova‘s pre-trial detention period was extended by a Baku court; other prominent human rights defenders who have been arrested in recent months include: Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Anar Mammadli and Intigam Aliyev.
Hezi was arrested on August 29 2014 after an altercation in which the journalist said he was protecting himself from a physical assault and harassment, according to his lawyers.
Azadlıq Radiosu reported that Hezi’s lawyers and family are certain the arrest and the sentence are politically motivated and that Hezi is innocent.
His father, Meshqul Heziyev told Azadlıq Radiosu, “the hearing was biased and turned down all of the motions. At the end it simply carried out a politically motivated order”.
“Seymur Hezi’s arrest is a serious blow against our newspaper. He is one of the brightest Azerbaijani analysts and journalists, and a true intellectual,” Rahim Haciyev, acting editor of Azadliq newspaper, told Index at the time of Hezi’s arrest.
Haciyev said he is sure Hezi’s arrest is the result of a planned provocation and the journalist is prosecuted for publishing critical articles on the authorities in the newspaper, as well as in his online TV program “Azerbaijani Hour”, which he scripts and hosts.
In March 2011, Hezi was abducted and tortured by unidentified men. He was warned to keep quiet.
Seymur Hezi is also host of news programme “Azerbaijan Hour” and is a member of the opposition Popular Front Party.
Journalist Seymur Hezi, who works for Index award-winning Azadliq newspaper, is in prison awaiting trial. Hezi was arrested on trumped-up charges of hooliganism on 29 August 2014. The journalist denies the charges, says they are politically motivated and are linked to his work.
I feel good in the prison. I have no complaints in regard to my health and general mood. There is nothing different besides that I miss my friends and relatives. I think about what is going around and read much. I wouldn’t like to waste my time. I don’t know how much time I’ll spend here, so I don’t want to lose this period. My advice to the youth in freedom is that, wasting time for nothing is unacceptable, whatever the conditions are.
Sometimes I get some newspapers. Recently, I’ve read in one of them the letter Khadija Ismail wrote from the prison and I was impressed. Maybe, the very first reason is that we are very close here from the viewpoint of distance. Here, in Kurdakhany, the distance between us may be some 100 feet, only. Maybe, even less. The author of the letter is kept some 100 feet away me.
I possess strange feelings after reading her letter. The letter full of will and determination has been written by a woman. An Azerbaijani woman. You know that we had many of such determined and strong-willed women in our history. But such determination and will of struggle in a woman in prison… It is a true historical event. It is the history of our will, determination and decisiveness. Particularly, of our women…
Khadija Ismail is one of the greatest examples of righteousness truthfulness and the direct expression of true words. For her, there is only truth and nothing else and it is right, whatever the arguments are. It is right despite of all obstacles in front of her. She is being tested for it every single day.
I don’t know whether we owe it to extreme patriarchal state of our society or something else, expressing the power, endeavor and bravery of a woman, our fathers have always said: “Sheis a woman like a man”. Today, observing a woman like Khadija, we can change this saying. For expressing the manhood and will of a man, I would say: “He is a man like the Azerbaijani woman” or more correctly: “He is a man just like Khadija”.
My greetings to my friends and relatives. I kiss and hug all of you. Wish to reach beautiful days of freedom. Earlier or later, we will meet soon. I love you.