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Azerbaijan has never had a strong record on press freedom. Since independence, the country’s journalists have been mistreated, while independent and opposition newspapers faced constant libel charges and other harassment from local law enforcement or criminal elements.
Journalists and outlets that support government policies are left alone to fill their pages with praise, while those who take a more critical approach are punished. Official court documents detail how journalists have been sent to prison on trumped-up charges of hooliganism, extortion, trafficking, and instigating mass protests and violence.
In practice, however, targeted journalists reported on official corruption, criticised extravagant government spending or documented illegal evictions. While the country’s leaders and key decision makers pay lip service to media freedom, the government continues to hunt down journalists, activists and human rights defenders.
Periodic waves of arrests have created a sense of fear that has suffocated the country’s journalists. Independent media — like Index award-winning Azadliq — have been pushed into bankruptcy through the withholding of funds and spurious libel litigation. Even media organisations based outside the country — like meydan.tv — have been subject to harassment and punitive investigations. Azerbaijan’s small but remaining mass of independent voices is shrinking.
The timeline, beginning in 2003, includes journalists and bloggers who have been arrested and sentenced on bogus charges.