Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, has awarded a number of journalists with flats, in an official opening ceremony of a large 17-floor building, constructed on his personal decree.
‘Azerbaijani journalism is developing and playing a big positive role in society’, the Azeri Press Agency (APA) quoted Aliyev as saying on 20 July.
‘All freedoms, including freedom of speech are ensured in Azerbaijan’, the president added.
This is the second block of flats constructed by the government for journalists. In 2013, 156 journalists were awarded with flats, and Aliyev has announced that a third building with 255 flats is on the way.
Azerbaijani Press Council Chairman and a Member of Parliament Aflatun Amashov thanked Aliyev for his ‘attention and care’ towards Azerbaijani journalists, before awarding him the title of ‘friend of journalists’.
In March, Amashov put forward new legislation to tighten control over online media.
The giveaway has faced criticism, with many claiming that journalists granted flats from the state will automatically fall under their control.
For years Azerbaijan has been criticised for its dismal record on media freedom and repression of journalists by a number of international watchdogs, including Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, and the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety.
On 29 May, Afgan Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani journalist in exile in Georgia, was abducted from Tbilisi to Azerbaijan, where he has been charged with smuggling €10,000 ($11,200), border trespass, and disobeying border guards.
[Read on OC Media: What does an Azerbaijani journalist need the most: a free flat or a free environment?]