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Azerbaijan: Alarm Over Reporter's Beating

Police say that journalists’ rights advocate inflicted injuries on himself.
By Idrak Abbasov
International organisations have expressed alarm after a leading Azerbaijan journalists’ rights advocate was badly beaten in police custody.

Emin Husseinov, director of the Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety, is still in hospital five days after the incident. Now out of intensive care where he spend the first three days, he remains in poor condition with severe head injuries, and is unable to eat.

The hospital told Husseinov to check out on June 17, but after complaints from human rights activists, editors and the Press Council, he was allowed to stay.

On June 14, Baku police broke up an event held in the Alaturka café held by the Che Guevara Fan Club to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the birth of the revolutionary. Nineteen young people, including Husseinov, who was filming the event, and two of his colleagues, Rasim Aliev and Mirragim Hasanov, were taken to a police station in the city’s Nasimi district.

Speaking to IWPR from hospital, Husseinov said that the police assaulted and threatened him during the arrest. “During my detention, the police hit me on the back of my head and neck and then forced me into a car,” he said.

At the police station, he said, he and his colleagues were photographed and fingerprinted without being charged. When they protested, a plainclothes officer who was evidently in charge, ordered him into the office of the deputy head of the police station, Major Azer Kerimzade.

According to Husseinov’s colleague Rasim Aliev, shouting and swearing could be heard from the office and the man in civilian clothes banged a pistol in the desk and shouted to Husseinov, “I will destroy you!” before beating him on the back of the head.

Shortly afterwards, Husseinov asked for a doctor. No medical help was provided until he lost consciousness, and eventually other journalists helped him get to hospital by ambulance.

The following day, police captain Yusif Abdinov came to the hospital and took a statement from Husseinov in the presence of the head of the Institute of the Rights of the Media, lawyer Rashid Hajili, and a medical expert. Husseinov gave a detailed account of what had happened to him.

Hajili said he hoped a balanced investigation would be carried out.

However, another officer from the police station, a major who refused to identify himself, claimed that Husseinov had inflicted the injuries himself.

Interior ministry spokesman Ehsan Zahidov also accused Husseinov of lying.

“The statements made to the press by… Husseinov alleging that the police pressured him are far from the truth,” said Zahidov. “Even his views as published by various media contain contradictions.”

According to the interior ministry, police moved in after finding an “unauthorised meeting” taking place at the café. Twenty participants were taken to a police station for questioning and then released.

“At this time, Emin Husseinov said he was feeling unwell. An ambulance was called immediately. In the course of medical observation, it transpired that his state of sickness was connected to a previous illness. During the observation, Husseinov’s blood pressure went up to 190 and he lost consciousness.”

Husseinov totally rejected this version of events, describing it as a cover-up. He said police also beat up another journalist, Uzeir Jafarov from Gundelik Azerbaijan, and then claimed he had hit himself over the head.

Over the past couple of years there has been a series of violent attacks on journalists in Azerbaijan. Husseinov’s organisation has been at the forefront of monitoring and publicising these cases.

He himself suffered lasting injuries when he was beaten during the demonstrations of October 2003, when the opposition protested against the results of a presidential election.

The press freedom organisation Reporters Without Frontiers expressed concern at the latest incident and noted that it had taken place five months before the next presidential election is due. The United States-based Committee to Protect Journalists called the incident “a brazen attack on our colleague” and said those responsible must be brought to justice.

American embassy press attaché Jonathan Henick visited Husseinov in hospital and told Radio Liberty that his condition was “poor”. Referring to the Che Guevara birthday celebrations, Henick said, “According to our information there was nothing illegal in the event; there was simply photography and video-filming.”

Idrak Abbasov is a correspondent with Ayna and Zerkalo newspapers in Baku.

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