Human Rights Watch issues Reporters’ Guide for the 2015 European Games in Baku
Human Rights Watch has issued a Reporter's guide to assist journalists covering the European Games this summer in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo: The Heydar Alijev Arena by G Travels/Flickr
18.05.2015By Stine Alvad
This summer, Azerbaijan will welcome around 6.000 athletes from 50 different countries for the inaugural European Games organised by the European Olympic Committee.
Close to 700 international media representatives are expected to go to Baku to cover the event along with an expected 600 local journalists. To help the foreign journalists in getting an idea of what type of country they are travelling to, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has issued a ‘Reporters’ Guide’ with overview and background information on Azerbaijani politics, economy and, not least, how well the country acts up to human rights and freedom aspects.
And according to HRW, the protection of human rights in the host country is not sufficiently upheld.
“As the Azerbaijani government is welcoming all of Europe for this new sporting event, it is cracking down harder than ever on its critics,” said Jane Buchanan, HRW associate Europe and Central Asia director, according to a press release accompanying the publication of the guide.
“Government repression is making these games historic for all the wrong reasons, and it’s important for journalists to capture the whole story,” she added.
‘The whole story’ includes draconian laws to restrict independent groups, stamping out public protest, ill-treatment in police custody and the suppression of persons critical to the government, writes HRW.
“Since 2014, the Azerbaijani government has orchestrated an unprecedented campaign to suppress dissenting voices in the country,” the guide says and adds that at least 35 journalists, human rights activists and political activists are currently imprisoned or convicted.
In general, freedom of the press in Azerbaijan is on a decline, writes HRW in their guide. Since 2009, a number of international radio channels have been closed down, as have opposition and independent newspapers.
‘Major backslider’ in freedom of press
This picture corresponds with a newly released report on conditions for journalists and the level of press freedom, issued by Freedom House. According to this ‘Freedom of the press 2015’-index, conditions for the media have seen a steep decline during the past year, as restrictions and threats have impeded the information flow in many countries around the world.
While the decline of freedom is global, the report from Freedom House places Azerbaijan among the ‘major backsliders’ when it comes to press freedom.
“Detentions and closures under existing security or emergency laws also increased in 2014. Azerbaijan was one of the worst offenders, with nine journalists in prison as of December 1. Over the course of that month, the authorities detained prominent investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova of U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), raided and closed RFE/ RL’s offices in the country, and interrogated the service’slocal employees. A number of well-known media advocacy groups were also forced to close during the year,” says the report.
The report ranks Azerbaijan ranks among the countries that are ‘Not free’ and the country is placed on place number 188 out of 199 countries and territories worldwide.
"A completely free athmosphere"
In an April article in the paper azernews.com, Azerbaijani spokesperson for the foreign ministry Hikmat Hajiyev denied that the country’s restrictions will hamper the international media representatives in Baku for the European Games and complained that there was a smear campaign going on against the country.
“In general, freedom of the press and thought has been fully provided in Azerbaijan, and there is a completely free atmosphere for local and foreign media representatives to implement their professional activity based on respect for the laws of Azerbaijan,” Hajiyev said and continued:
“About 160 foreign media representatives were accredited in Azerbaijan in 2014. These foreign media representatives carried out their professional journalistic activities in Azerbaijan in an atmosphere of freedom of the press as stipulated by the rule of law.”
The 2015 European Games will run from 12-28 June, and take place on Baku, Azerbaijan, http://www.baku2015.com/
- See ‘Reporters’ guide – 2015 European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan’ by Human Rights Watch