WASHINGTON – The Broadcasting Board of Governors today called on Azerbaijani authorities to cease their investigations of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Baku bureau journalists and to immediately permit the news bureau to reopen.
In the past three days 23 RFE/RL journalists were interviewed by Azerbaijan’s state prosecutor’s office. A lawyer representing the Baku bureau staff said people were being “dragged” to the prosecutor’s office “by force and threats.” Another 13 RFE/RL journalists are waiting to be summoned for questioning. Authorities also began to question family members of journalists. The investigations follow the raid and closure of the RFE/RL Baku bureau on Friday, December 26. In early December, authorities also arrested and jailed prominent Azerbaijani investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova, a contributor to RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service programming.
“This harsh treatment, including direct threats against our journalists, violates every principle of media freedom,” said BBG Chairman Jeff Shell. “We again call on Azerbaijani authorities to permit RFE/RL’s Baku bureau to reopen, to halt the investigations and harassment of RFE/RL journalists and their families, and to release Khadija Ismayilova.”
In a related development, on December 26 a Baku court heard and rejected Ismayilova’s appeal . She remains in prison after being sentenced to two months of pre-trial detention on charges of inciting a colleague to attempt suicide. Reporters Without Borders has called this “the latest example of the appalling harassment to which this trailblazer of investigative journalism has been subjected for years by [Azerbaijan’s] government in its drift towards despotism.”
RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service is one of the last remaining independent media outlets in Azerbaijan. Several international organizations that support civil society, including IREX , the National Democratic Institute, and Oxfam have been forced to suspend their operations in Azerbaijan this year.