Azerbaijan: Four Meydan TV Reporters Slapped with Travel Ban, Placed on ‘Blacklist’
Just two days after the European Games closed in Azerbaijan, four journalists say they were barred from leaving the country and told they were placed on a government “blacklist.”
The four reporters for OCCRP partner organization Meydan TV – Ayten Alakbarova, Şirin Tire Abbasov, Natiq Cavadli and Elnur Muxtar – were stopped at the border while travelling to the Republic of Georgia.
Officials reportedly told the reporters that they had been placed on a government “blacklist” but gave no explanation as to why they were not allowed to leave.
No official comment has yet been made by Azerbaijani authorities regarding the incident at the border.
The founder of independent online media platform Meydan TV, self-exiled Azerbaijani journalist Emin Milli, believes that the journalists were stopped because the authorities may intend to open a criminal case against them or conduct an investigation into Meydan TV.
Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist for OCCRP who reported extensively on corruption within the upper echelons of the Azerbaijani government, was banned from leaving Azerbaijan in October of 2014. Authorities cited several legal cases pending against her as the reason she could not leave.
Although the cases are widely considered to be bogus, she was detained in Baku in December and has remained in custody ever since. Amnesty International has declared her a prisoner of conscience.
Milli told OCCRP he fears that “the government has now chosen Meydan TV to be the first target of a new wave of repressions.”
Azerbaijani media reported Monday that Ali Hasanov, the president’s aide for public and political affairs, said he regretted that some Azerbaijani journalists living abroad have become tools in an anti-Azerbaijan campaign. “Anti-Azerbaijani networks were formed and we have been informed about their activities,” Hasanov said.
The incident at the border comes a week after Milli claimed to have received a threatening message from an Azerbaijani minister for his vocal opposition to President Ilham Aliyev’s regime.
According to the Meydan TV founder, who was imprisoned in Azerbaijan for 16 months in 2009 on what he says were bogus charges of hooliganism, the message said: "We will get you wherever you are and the state will punish you for this smear campaign against the state that you have organized. You will get punished for this. You will not be able to walk freely in Berlin or anywhere else. You must know this."
Milli believes that the Azerbaijani government wants to threaten him because of the success of Meydan TV, and its coverage of the European Games in the context of the regime’s human rights abuses.
Azerbaijan recently spent billions of dollars hosting the Games, intended to be a European lead-up to the Olympics, which were held for the first time this year and closed on Sunday. The Games were intended to boost Azerbaijan’s international profile but were marred by widespread reports of corruption, repressions and human rights violations in the country.
Azerbaijan has a poor freedom-of-speech record and was ranked 160th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Press Freedom Index. Human rights groups say that at least 80 people are currently imprisoned in Azerbaijan on politically motivated charges.