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Azerbaijan removes 58 foreign journalists from blacklist

21 July 2023
The heads of Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry, Media Development Agency, and Press Council at the press conference. Photo: Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry/Twitter

Fifty-eight journalists banned from entering Azerbaijan, allegedly after visiting Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia, have been removed from the list of persona non grata, in a move that the government suggested was connected to their ‘apologising’. 

Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, Media Development Agency, and Press Council made the announcement at a press conference on Wednesday, in anticipation of Azerbaijan’s National Press and Journalism Day on 22 July. 

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aykhan Haijzade told journalists that the names of 58 journalists who had visited Nagorno-Karabakh had been removed from the list of persona non grata to mark both the ‘Year of Heydar Aliyev’ and the 148th anniversary of the establishment of Azerbaijan’s national press. 

The ministry statement additionally noted that ‘dozens’ of people every year send ‘official letters of apology’ to the Azerbaijani government asking for their names to be removed from the list. 

The statement also noted that visits by foreign journalists were important to the country’s aim of ‘shaping the information space’ in the region and outside of it, and ‘ensuring national information security against […] external negative ideological influences’. 

One journalist on the list who asked to remain anonymous told OC Media denied that they had sent a request or apology to the Azerbaijani government, calling the suggestion a ‘complete lie’. They added that they had received no information regarding their removal from the list, and had no intention of visiting Azerbaijan. 

They confirmed that they had visited Nagorno-Karabakh in the year specified by Azerbaijan, and had subsequently been banned from entering the country. 

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Planned routes and predetermined people

Azerbaijan’s Press Council chair, Rashad Majid, also claimed at the event that there would be ‘no problem’ if Armenian journalists wanted to visit Azerbaijan, while emphasising that such visits would need to abide by Azerbaijani legislation. 

Since 2022, foreign journalists visiting Azerbaijan for work must be accredited by Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry. This was announced as a part of a package of laws restricting the work of journalists, both foreign and Azerbaijani, within the country.  

Huseyn Ismayilbeyli, an editor in JAMnews’ Azerbaijan office, told OC Media that Azerbaijan needed foreign journalists to visit, to report their perspective on the conflicts within Nagorno-Karabakh and with Armenia.

‘There are not that many people involved in conflict journalism’, said Ismayilbeyli. ‘If you blacklist 2,000 of them, you have problems getting your voice across to the international press’. 

At the press conference on Wednesday, officials noted that more than 2,000 foreign nationals were on the list of persona non grata having visited Nagorno-Karabakh. 

‘To explain its position, Azerbaijan needs such journalists to visit the country more than those journalists need to come here’, added Ismayilbeyli, noting that foreign journalists visiting Nagorno-Karabakh ‘travel only on planned routes and meet predetermined people’.  

Regarding potential visits by Armenian journalists, Ismayilbeyli stated that the issues faced by foreign citizens of Armenian origin would need addressing first, noting that a Russian journalist of Armenian origin was not allowed to enter Azerbaijan to report on the UEFA championship in 2021. 

He added that he believed that any Armenian journalists who did enter the country would be ‘strictly controlled’. 

‘I don’t think they will meet any unapproved persons’, said Ismayilbeyli. ‘We will see’. 

Read in Georgian on On.ge.