Hannah Bardell (United Kingdom, NR), PACE rapporteur on “Threats to life and safety of journalists and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan”; Mogens Jensen (Denmark, SOC), PACE General Rapporteur on media freedom and safety of journalists; and Sunna Aevarsdottir (Iceland, SOC), PACE General Rapporteur on political prisoners, have reacted to news of the arrest and alleged ill-treatment of Ulvi Hasanli, founder and Executive Director of Abzas Media, an online independent media outlet:
“We express our deepest concern about the arrest and continued detention of Ulvi Hasanli, seemingly to silence him following his investigative reporting on government corruption. We are equally alarmed by reports of his recent ill-treatment by the Azerbaijani authorities.
Earlier this year, Mr Hasanli attended a joint hearing between three PACE committees on threats to the lives and safety of journalists and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan. He explained how the Azerbaijani authorities had spied on journalists and human rights activists in an attempt to discredit them by exposing intimate information about their private lives. He also stated that protesters and journalists were being violently abused by police, who enjoyed absolute impunity for their actions. It is almost beyond belief that one of the few remaining independent voices in Azerbaijan has now been arrested and detained by the authorities in an effort to silence him for exposing their corruption.
Mr Hasanli, an experienced investigative journalist, has previously faced harassment for his commitment to the defence of human rights and the rule of law. Despite his ill-health, he was conscripted into the military, arbitrarily detained and his work as a journalist was obstructed by Azerbaijani police, who ordered him to delete materials recorded at protests. And yet, despite all these measures aimed at dissuading him from independent reporting, Ulvi Hasanli reaffirmed to the PACE committees that independent journalists would never stop their unbiased reporting, no matter what the cost.
We consider the latest arrest of Mr Hasanli, on suspicion of smuggling, to be a reprisal for his co-operation with the Parliamentary Assembly and for his recent investigative journalism into corruption by members of the government. We consider that his arrest and detention is aimed at silencing criticism and discouraging independent voices and media freedom in Azerbaijan. It is another example of a crackdown by the Azerbaijani authorities against journalists and human rights defenders, or indeed anyone who does not stick to the government script, which cannot be accepted in a Council of Europe member state.
This recent politically-motivated detention of a journalist in Azerbaijan comes off the back of recent non-co-operation by the Azerbaijani authorities with the Council of Europe’s work to support freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, a country where, sadly, expression is anything but free.
We call on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately release Mr Hasanli, ensure respect for his fundamental rights, in particular by promptly, thoroughly and independently investigating the allegations of his ill-treatment in custody, in accordance with Azerbaijan’s obligations under the European Convention for Human Rights. A failure to do so clearly undermines the obligations and commitments that Azerbaijan committed to when it became a member of the Council of Europe and which continue to be binding on Azerbaijan as part of its continuing membership of the Council of Europe.”