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Armenia/Azerbaijan: Journalists Under Attack

Beaten in Armenia and imprisoned in Azerbaijan, journalists in the ex-Soviet South Caucasus know the price of freedom. Some of them are even fighting from prison cells, wrestling state persecution and challenging societal intolerance for dissent. Bloggers tell the story of free speech in the South Caucasus.

Mark Grigorian [RU], an Armenian journalist in exile, blogs from England. Writing in Russian, he comments on the 17 November attack on prominent investigative journalist Edik Baghdasaryan.

Только что узнал: в Ереване трое неизвестных напали на журналиста Эдика Багдасаряна.

[…]

Эдик не боится говорить правду. Он говорит ее, открыто, спокойно, глядя собеседнику в глаза, подтверждая свои слова документами и фактами. Представляю, как это может раздражать. Но и рад, что в Армении есть такой журналист.

Дай Бог, чтобы это нападение не испугало его.

И дай Бог, чтобы ничего серьезного с ним не было, и он поскорее выздоровел.

Я очень высоко ценю цикл статей Эдика о трафикинге. Это было несколько лет назад. Группа журналистов под его руководством смогла проследить, как девушек из Армении отправляют в Дубаи, где они занимаются проституцией. Эдик прошел всю дорогу, начиная от сутенеров в Армении, потом через перевалочные пункты, где девушек снабжали фальшивыми паспортами, и до Дубаи, где они “работали”.

Just learned: three unknown [men] have attacked journalist Edik Baghdasaryan in Yerevan.
Edik is not afraid to tell the truth. He tells it openly, calmly, looking at one’s eyes, backing up his words with documents and facts. I imagine how this can upset [some]. But I am also happy that there is such a journalist in Armenia.

May God not let this attack scare him.

And may God help that nothing serious happens to him, and that he recovers soon.

I price Edik’s series on human trafficking very highly. It was several years ago. A group of journalists under his leadership were able to observe how girls from Armenia were being sent to Dubai, where they work as prostitutes. Edik documented the whole path, starting with pimps in Armenia then going through transfer points where girls were transported by false passports to Dubai, where they “worked.”

Another blogger, gago-berlin [AM], also offers admiration for Edik’s work. Writing in Armenian using the Latin keyboard, the blogger compares the journalist to a war hero killed during the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

yes &anachm em Baghdasaryanin miayn ir site-ic u nyuteric, inq[ mec gorc a anum, inq[ mec mard a, yerevi qajutyamb kareli a iren hamematel Monte Melkoniani het…

I know Baghdasaryan only through the materials on his website; he is doing a great job; he is a great man; perhaps he can be compared to [Karabakh war volunteer] Monte Melkonian for his courage.

Unzipped posts YouTube video showing Edik Baghdasaryan getting first aid after the attack while former colleague Ara Manoogian at Martuni or Bust writes about the attack on his “longtime friend” by posting several articles detailing and condemning the assault.

Another US-born Armenia-based blogger, Christian Garbis at Notes from Hairenik, comments as well.

Edik, who is originally from Shushi, is perhaps the most widely respected investigative journalist in Armenia today. His gutsy, bold articles blatantly expose the corruption lying at the core of the Armenian government in the most minute detail, often citing financial figures of dodgy accounting reports released by businesses known to be owned by government ministers with ties to the underworld. His reporters have also written extensively about the hardships affecting the lives of thousands of people living in rural areas of the country as a result of poor governance and local officials skimming off the top of government funding. […]

[…]

Edik is so revered in Armenian society that even the presidential office released a statement condemning the attack. Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian visited Edik in the hospital and also conveyed his concerns to the press, vowing to capture the assailants.

[…] These attacks have been going on for years, mainly against those reporters who try to expose the roots of corruption at the governmental level. It is an outrage and totally unacceptable that these attacks continue.

While the attack in Armenia has resulted in widespread anger and concern, blogs are almost silent on the continous persecution against journalists in Azerbaijan. On my Blogian I summarize reports from Russian-language Azeri websites.

While government-controlled AzTV says it will stop broadcasting “Voice of America,” an Azerbaijani court has sentenced Ali Hasanov, editor of Ideal newspaper, to 6 months in prison. According to the Russian-language Day.az, Hasanov was subpoenaed after Azerbaijan’s Press Union forwarded written complaints against Ideal to the prosecutor’s office. He was handcuffed during his November 14, 2008 hearing and placed behind bars.

The lawyer of another jailed Azeri journalist says the authorities are not letting him visit his client Ganimat Zahidov, the editor-in-chief of Azadliq.

In this wave of restricting freedom of speech, though, some imprisoned Azeri journalists are using all legal means to defend themselves. Eynulla Fatullayev, according to Azerbaijan Free Speech Foundation, is suing Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry for not providing him with a list of alleged foreigners who were cited in a case that sentenced the journalist to an 8-year imprisonment. The foreigners in Azerbaijan had supposedly protested an article Fatullayev wrote in jail (while serving another sentence) where the author discussed possible US-led strikes against Iran from Azerbaijan.

Moreover, Azeri journalists don’t seem to give up their fight. According to an Azeri-language announcement, a new newspaper – Ayan – is set to launch in Azerbaijan.

However, azerbaijan’s presidential election blog wonders whether the recent re-election of Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev will bring with it even more media restriction.

This further asks the question if Azerbaijan is going to lose more rights with Aliyev’s second term, and if the government is going to turn into a more authoritarian government. This leads me to believe that the opposition is going to have a sudden mobilization by the opposition that the government is not going to expect. When it happens there will be harsh repression from the government, leading Aliyev to more power.

1 comment

  • […] with attacks on freedom of the press in all three countries on the increase, and especially in Armenia and Azerbaijan, blogging increased in the region in 2008, although the October presidential election in the latter […]

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