Rights groups condemn attack on journalist in Azerbaijan

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 19, 2012 6:50 AM
Rights groups condemn attack on journalist in Azerbaijan

BAKU (Reuters) - Human rights groups on Thursday condemned the beating by police and security guards of an Azeri journalist who was filming house demolitions on the outskirts of the capital Baku.

Idrak Abbasov, a reporter for the independent daily Zerkalo, was filming the demolition process on land owned by the state oil company SOCAR when around 20 policemen and security guards from the firm attacked him on Wednesday, rights groups said.

Abbasov, who was beaten unconscious, and his brother, who suffered head injuries and a broken rib, were taken to hospital.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) urged authorities to investigate the attack and bring those responsible to justice.

"The fact that security personnel attacked Abbasov in broad daylight is utterly outrageous and shows the climate of impunity for attacks on journalists in Azerbaijan," Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, said in a statement.

Azerbaijan, a mostly Muslim former Soviet republic of about 9 million people in the South Caucasus, next month hosts the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual event watched by millions of people on television.

"One would have thought that with the Eurovision just around the corner and images from Baku about to be beamed around the world, the authorities would be on their best behavior," said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia director at Amnesty International.

"Instead, journalists in the process of exposing human rights abuses are themselves coming under attack by state officials bent on preventing them from reporting the truth."

Azeri authorities have been criticized for razing homes and evicting residents to free up space around the site where the Eurovision final is to be held on May 26.

Rights groups and Western governments have previously urged Azerbaijan, where government critics have been imprisoned on what supporters have called fabricated charges, to take steps to ensure freedom of expression and assembly.

Critics accuse President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his late father in 2003, of clamping down on dissent, including during protests last year inspired by the Arab Spring.

The secular government says Azerbaijan enjoys full freedom of speech and a thriving opposition press.

(Reporting and writing by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Editing by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya)