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Azerbaijan Cracks Down on Press as Eurovision Nears: International Watchdog Concerned

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed by the recent wave of journalist imprisonments in Azerbaijan. With at least six journalists currently behind bars, Azerbaijan is now among the top 10 global jailers of the press, ahead of Uzbekistan and just behind Ethiopia, according to CPJ research. This crackdown comes in the run-up to Eurovision, the international song contest that Baku is hosting in May, which will gather journalists from more than 40 participating countries and fix the world’s eyes on Azerbaijan, writes CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon in a letter to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, which continues as follows:

“Your government has used significant resources to polish the country’s image ahead of the Eurovision contest and make it appealing to its international guests. However, we believe your efforts would be meaningless if the government continues to crack down on independent voices in the country. By implementing systematic reform, and urging the relevant authorities to investigate potential abuses of power, we believe you could stem the deterioration of press freedom in Azerbaijan.

“According to CPJ research, your government is holding in custody editor Avaz Zeynally and journalist Aidyn Dzhaniyev of the independent daily Khural; reporter Anar Bayramli and his driver, Ramil Dadashev, from the Iranian broadcaster Sahar TV; editor Ramin Bayramov of the Islamic news website Islam-Azeri; and directors Zaur Guliyev and Vugar Gonagov of the regional TV channel Khayal. We are attaching a more detailed list of the imprisoned journalists to this letter.

“The journalists have been imprisoned on fabricated, politicized charges — ranging from hooliganism and drug possession to incitement to mass order — that stemmed from their work, CPJ research shows. Two of them have already been convicted and are serving prison terms, while the others are jailed pending a trial, according to CPJ sources.

“President Aliyev, we call on you to exercise the high authority of your office and instruct the relevant authorities to investigate the cases of these journalists who languish in jail simply because of their critical reporting. We urge you to uphold your declared commitment to international press freedom standards and ensure the immediate and unconditional release of these journalists.”