Who restricts journalism in Azerbaijan?: Reporters speak

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President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has approved the law on amendments to the Code of Administrative Offenses, which establishes new fines for violation of media legislation.

The amendment determines that any person who prevents the distribution of media products in accordance with the law will be fined 200-300 AZN, and officials will be fined 300-500 AZN.

A fine of up to 600 AZN is expected for those who illegally intervene in the activities of journalists.

Who is the law for?

Meydan TV spoke with employees of various media organizations to examine the independent and foreign media workers operating in the country who have faced pressure while performing their professional activities. It turned out that the most obstacles to the activities of journalists in the country are the state representatives.

Who interferes with journalists?

Abzas.net reporter Nargiz Absalamova says that it was the police who interfered with her work the most:

“Especially, I have come across police intervention in actions. Even during ordinary shootings, the police stop us and question us at every step. “What’s wrong, why are you shooting?” they ask questions”.

Nargiz explains that the police also prevent them from conducting interviews on the street. Most of the time, they do not allow her to continue a street survey:

Nargiz Absalamova in a red jacket.  Photo: Meydan TV
Nargiz Absalamova (in the middle in a red dress), Photo: Meydan TV

” In a word, it is impossible to shoot on the street. When the moment is approaching, they ask various questions. Or they ask whether we have received permission from the executive power. Even if it is in the legislation, we say that a journalist should not get permission for his work, it is not good.”

“Perhaps the changes are for journalists who have gone through the register”

Regarding the change in the law, Nargiz Absalamova says that it is difficult to say what will happen next, whether the situation will improve or not:

“Perhaps the changes are for journalists who go through the register [with the National Media Register Agency], we cannot know.”

“Police intervene not only in actions but also in street polls”

Fatima Movlamli, an employee of Toplum TV, says that interference in professional activities always comes from the police. He says that he encounters police intervention not only in actions but also in street polls:

” At best, the police reminds us of the importance of obtaining permission from the executive authority. In the worst case, they damage our technical equipment or cause physical injuries. But I never saw them being punished.”

Fatima Movlamli at the March 31 rally
Photo: from Fatima Movlamli’s personal archive

“The law is a pathos calculated for an internal and external audience”

Movlamli says that she has no expectations after that and adds that the law will not affect their work – they are decided to continue in the same way:

” Such laws are nothing but pathos calculated for domestic and foreign audiences.”

“If there is a fine, the interference can be reduced”

Voice of America ​​radio reporter Turkan Bashirli says that the last time she encountered a police intervention was in December 2022 while filming. The journalist still remembers the incident. According to her, she also filed a complaint:

Photo: from Turkan Bashir’s personal archive

“After that, I did not shoot in actions. I have not encountered such interference in small shootings.”
Turkan Bashir hopes that if there is a fine, the interventions can be reduced.

“The intervention of administrative and non-administrative institutions is envisaged”

Lawyer Alasgar Mammadli says that the people who are supposed to be fined by the law are only people who do not have authority from a legal point of view. That is, the intervention of administrative and non-administrative institutions is envisaged here.

“For example, when a journalist is filming on the boulevard or doing an interview, if an employee of the boulevard department does not give permission or interferes, this will be considered illegal. Because the law does not prohibit filming on the boulevard. There may be police and special security service here. Therefore, those who interfere with the journalist’s activities will be fined.”

Alasgar Mammadli. Photo: Meydan TV

Will changing the law work?

As for preventing the distribution of media products, Mammadli stated that forcefully taking or not accepting printed products from any newsstand will create legal liability.

At the end of 2021, the Law “On Media” in Azerbaijan was adopted by the parliament.

The law entered into force in February 2022 with the approval of the head of the country. The new law envisages the creation of a single register of media and journalists.

The rules for keeping the register were approved by the Decree of the head of the country dated September 26, 2022.

The country’s independent journalists and media experts believe that the adoption of the Law “On Media” and the implementation of provisions related to the establishment of the Media Registry are contrary to the freedom of expression and media.

International organizations, including the Venice Commission, gave a negative opinion of the law and considered it an interference with freedom of expression.

As for whether the current change will work, journalists think it’s too early to tell. The majority does not believe that the law will protect independent journalists.

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