A journalist was detained and a protest forcibly dispersed by police on Monday in front of the Press Council in Baku. National Press Day is celebrated annually on 22 July in Azerbaijan, to mark the anniversary of the first publication of the first Azerbaijani newspaper, Akinchi.
Around 10 journalists gathered first outside the Ministry of Internal Affairs and then the Press Council demanding to meet with the council’s chair, Aflatun Amashov, and protesting against the prosecution of journalists in Azerbaijan.
Nurlan Gakhramanli, a journalist from online TV station Kanal13, was briefly detained.
[Read more about National Press day in Azerbaijan: Opinion | What’s the point of Azerbaijan’s National Press Day?]
Gakhramanli told OC Media that police tore up their blank posters as they dispersed their picket in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. According to him, the demonstrators were demanding the release of journalists Afghan Mukhtarli and Seymur Hazi.
Milli Mətbuat Günündə media nümayəndələri DİN-in qarşısında etiraz aksiyası keçirirlər.
Polislər yenə jurnalistslərə qarşı vəhşilik elədi.
Posted by Nurlan Libre on Sunday, 21 July 2019
Footage of police dispersing protesters. (Nurlan Gakhramanli / Facebook)
‘What is the work of the Press Council?’
According to Gakhramanli, the picketing journalists then moved to the Press Council building intending to meet and speak to the organisation’s chair, Aflatun Amashov. He said they eventually managed to meet with a spokesperson for the council, Avaz Rustamov, and to talk about the difficulties journalists faced in Azerbaijan.
‘We talked about the pressure journalists face during their work, we asked them why they are not interested in imprisoned journalists, in particular, Afghan Mukhtarli and Seymur Hazi’, Gakhramanli said.
‘Why doesn’t the government pay enough attention to the work of journalists in extreme conditions and what is the work of the Press Сouncil?’, he asked.
Rustamov told OC Media that the protesters were told during the meeting that the Press Council had not received any official complaints from journalists regarding difficulties they had encountered during their professional activities.
‘The journalists told us about interference in their professional activity and we told them that if the journalists turned to us with a letter about the cases of interference we would have taken measures. And we haven’t received any such letters’.
‘If any journalist were to appeal to us with a letter explaining a case of interference in their professional work, we are always ready to assist. Because interference in a journalist’s work is unacceptable by law’, said Rustamov.
Rustamov said that the journalists, as any other citizen, had the right to hold a picket and the Press Council supported this right but ‘the dispersal and detention happened not because of holding a picket, it was for another reason’.
After the meeting, demonstrators chanted ‘freedom!’ and ‘a free press can not be silenced!’ in front of the building, after which plain-clothes police dispersed the picket and detained Gakhramanli.
Bu gün Mətbuat Şurasının qarşısına getmişdik Mətbuat günündə Əflatun Amaşov ilə görüşməyə. Polislər heç bir əsas göstərmədən məni həbs elədilər.
Posted by Nurlan Libre on Monday, 22 July 2019
Gakhramanli being detained. (Nurlan Gakhramanli / Facebook)
The Baku Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
The protesters were calling for the release of journalists Afghan Mukhtarli, Seymur Hazi, and others.
Mukhtarli, a veteran investigative journalist, disappeared in Tbilisi on 29 May 2017 on his way back home after meeting a friend in a café. He resurfaced jailed in Azerbaijan the next day.
According to his lawyers, Mukhtarli was kidnapped by four Georgian-speaking men, three of them wearing police uniforms, who planted money in his pocket as they crossed the Georgian-Azerbaijani border.
Mukhtarli was charged by the Azerbaijani authorities with smuggling €10,000 in cash, illegal border crossing, and resisting police, eventually being sentenced to six years imprisonment.
[Read more: The Afgan Mukhtarli case: an investigation stalled?]
Seymur Hazi is a journalist from opposition newspaper Azadlig (‘liberty’) and a member of the Popular Front opposition party known for his critical position on the Azerbaijani authorities. He was sentenced to five years in prison in January 2015 on charges of hooliganism.
According to the latest report by the Working Group on a Unified List of Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan, made up of local activists, journalists, and civil society groups, there were 127 political prisoners in the country as of 20 February.
According to the BBC’s Azerbaijani service, a list by the Centre for the Protection of Political Prisoners, a local rights group, included 137 people.
In March, almost 400 prisoners were released in Azerbaijan after President Ilham Aliyev issued an amnesty to mark the Novruz holiday. Fifty-two of those receiving pardons were widely considered by rights groups and international organisations to be political prisoners.
[Read more on OC Media: Aliyev frees 52 ‘political prisoners’ as part of Novruz amnesty]