Azeri Journalist Speaks of Interrogation Ordeal

He claims what he thought was to be an interview with state officials turned into abusive encounter.

Azeri Journalist Speaks of Interrogation Ordeal

He claims what he thought was to be an interview with state officials turned into abusive encounter.

Friday, 27 February, 2009
An Azeri journalist said state security agents last week used the pretext of giving him an interview to detain, insult and abuse him.

Idrak Abbasov, a correspondent from the Zerkalo newspaper and an employee of the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety, IRFS, had traveled to the Nakhichevan region, which is separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenian territory.

Abbasov has been a regular contributor to IWPR, and as part of its Cross Caucasus Journalism Network has cooperated with journalists from Armenia, with whom his country has not signed a peace treaty.

“We had planned to meet with normal people, with social organisations, as well as with officials. Some of our meetings had already happened, and we managed to interview the chief of prisons for example. Then I was rung [by] the Ministry of National Security, MTN, and I was pleased that I could receive some information for my report,” Abbasov told IWPR.

When he reached the MTN building on February 20, he was admitted, but not Rashad Aliev, a IRFS colleague he was traveling with.

“Just as soon as I sat at the table, my hands were forced round and tied, they even closed my eyes. They took my phone, my camera and my documents. They took me to a room I didn’t know and started to ask about the reasons for my trip in a rude way, with insults and threats. I tried to explain that I had come to report. They told me that no journalist can come to Nakhichevan without the agreement of the local authorities.”

He said one officer asked him about connections with local journalists, then accused him of being a spy for Armenia. After two hours of interrogation, the MTN officers told him to get off the territory of Nakhichevan and never come back. He said the stress had made him feel ill, and he had been taken to hospital.

“I was trying to do a report on the progress towards a referendum, the situation with human rights, the standard of living in the autonomous republic. But they [treated me] like a bandit, and then forced me out of Nakhichevan,” said Abbasov, speaking from the cardiology department of the Republican Clinical Hospital in Baku.

“I feel fine now, but the doctors are not letting me go home at the moment, they suggest I continue my treatment.”

Journalists in Azerbaijan regularly complain that the authorities restrict their ability to work. According to an annual report by the “Reporters Without Borders”, the country is ranked 150th in its list of 173 countries for press freedom. Of the former Soviet states, only Belarus, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are rated lower. Three opposition journalists are in prison in the country, with human rights groups saying they were jailed for their political views.

The MTN refused to comment on the situation, but Eldar Ibragimov, a member of parliament for Nakhichevan, said he did not believe the accusations.

“For some reason journalist think that when they come to Nakhichevan they must be met with open arms. They forget that the autonomous republic is a border zone, including with Armenia. Therefore the law-enforcement bodies must be more alert,” he said.

“Will the journalists like it if Nakhichevan remains under pressure from foreign forces? I think that in the case of this journalist the MTN workers were just doing their duty.”

Abbasov said he had been visited by representatives of local and foreign human rights organisations.

"We condemn the Nakhchivan state security services for luring a journalist to their headquarters with the promise of an interview only to blindfold and interrogate him," said the Committee for Protection of Journalists’ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova.

"We call on the Azerbaijani central authorities to investigate this incident and punish those responsible."

Samira Akhmedbeili is an IWPR contributor.
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