Freedom House is concerned with speech freedom violations in Azerbaijan

Freedom House is deeply concerned about comments made by the Azerbaijani government expressing open hostility toward independent journalists, as well as proposed amendments to laws that restrict access to information. Official web-site of the organization writes about this.

On May 31, Ali Hasanov, a political advisor to Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev, called for public hatred against journalists and newspapers critical of the regime, according to local reports.  Speaking to a group of loyalist civic organizations, he said, “They must not appear in front of the Azerbaijani public anymore.  They should be afraid to go to the streets.  We have to display the public hatred against them.”

Sources also report that the country’s parliament is working to amend two laws that restrict access to information.  One allows officials to refuse to provide information “contradicting national interests,” a condition that the law defines so broadly that it could apply to virtually anything.  The other makes business registry information confidential.  Together the moves illustrate the ongoing suppression of dissent and public debate inAzerbaijan’s authoritarian and deeply corrupt government.

Authorities attempted to soften international criticism on June 4 by releasing jailed opposition activist, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who had been in prison for half of a two-year sentence for evading military service.  The release was timed to precede the arrival of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is visitingAzerbaijanand other countries in theCaucasusregion June 4-7.

“While Mr. Hajiyev’s release is a positive step, the inflammatory comments and bad legislation, combined with Azerbaijan’s entrenched culture of impunity, risk inciting violence against the country’s already-vulnerable media,” said Courtney Radsch, senior program manager for Freedom House’s Global Freedom of Expression Campaign.

Freedom House has called on Sec. Clinton to raise human rights concerns during her visit toAzerbaijan, which has an extensive record of intimidating activists, breaking up public demonstrations, jailing opposition leaders and cracking down on independent media.

Azerbaijanis rated Not Free in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2012 survey, and in Freedom of the Press 2012, which ranks it 172nd out of 197 countries for media freedom.

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