Zerkalo (The Mirror) newspaper reporter Idrak Abbasov, the recent recipient of an Index on Censorship award, was filming SOCAR's demolition of illegally constructed residences in a Baku suburb when company guards set upon him, grabbing his camera, and knocking him to the ground, Turan news agency reported. Abbasov is now reportedly unconscious in a Baku clinic. SOCAR itself has not responded to the incident
Abbasov has a long history of run-ins with SOCAR in connection with his coverage of the company's demolition of houses on property it claims as its own. One of those demolitions included part of Abbasov's own house.
Striking first and thinking later has become a time-honored tradition for responses to media that poke Azerbaijani officialdom in sensitive spots, and, apparently, one that the muscle at SOCAR see no reason to cast aside -- Eurovision or no Eurovision.
And European Court of Human Rights ruling or no. On April 17, the Strasbourg-based court fined the state of Azerbaijan 7,500 euros [$9,835] as compensation to former Turan news agency reporter Sarman Rizvanov for police brutality (and ensuing court expenses).
Back in 2005, Rizvanov was standing on a portable ladder to cover a government-sanctioned opposition rally in Baku when a deputy police chief allegedly started beating him with a metal club "on his feet to force him to come down," according to Rizvanov’s lawyer, Intigam Aliyev. The physical and verbal abuse of the journalist continued as he came down the ladder until local and international reporters helped put an end to the ordeal.
Azerbaijan repeatedly ranks at the bottom of the ratings for media rights in the South Caucasus, and such events can easily become a blur. The most prominent recent case involved an ugly smear campaign against investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova, who works for this news site as well as RFE/RL. Civil rights activists had hoped that next month's Eurovision might help Azerbaijan kick the habit of roughhousing media -- for reasons of PR if not freedom of expression -- but, with just a month to go, the chances for that appear to be growing fainter by the day.