Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev recently rejected claims of freedom of press violations in his nation during a meeting with a delegation of the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the European Union on October 5. This conference followed the detention of Mehman Aliyev (no relation to the president), head of the only independent news agency, Turan, on accounts of “suspicion of tax evasion and abuse in office,” in August.
In a press release produced by AzerNews, President Aliyev stated, “All freedoms are ensured in Azerbaijan.” He also commented that “more than 70 percent of our population are internet users, and the government is investing in building broadband internet channels in all cities and settlements of Azerbaijan.” President Aliyev reasoned that the government would not take such actions if it wanted to restrict the freedom of the media. He reassured the delegation, saying, “Restriction of the freedom of media is out of question, and we do not have such an intention.”
Yet, according to the data presented in Freedom House’s 2016 report, Azerbaijan scored 89 on its press freedom score with 100 as the highest-possible value. The summary said that “the authorities use spurious charges and investigations to imprison prominent journalists, bloggers, and freedom of expression advocates. Violence against journalists has become common, and perpetrators generally enjoy impunity.”
When questioned by the panel, President Alijev defended his statements, saying, “As for the arrests, they happen in every country. With regards to police violence, I can say that you cannot witness it in Azerbaijan, because there is not such a fact in the country.”
Another active voice in the situation, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), demanded that Mehman Aliyev be released. Nina Ogianova, the CPJ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, asserted, “Azerbaijan must stop this politically-motivated persecution of Mehman Aliyev and the Turan news agency.”
President Aliyev maintained that democratic progress is a goal of Azerbaijan through its agreement with the European Commission and remarked, “The issues relating to human rights and democratic development will be an integral part” of its involvement.