After putting yet another journalist in jail, a top official in Azerbaijan advised foreign news companies to comply with the country’s tight media regulations or face the consequences. The warning was addressed, among others, to Voice of America, the foreign broadcasting outlet of the US government.
News operations like Voice of America and the Berlin-based Meydan TV “do not comply with the rules and operate in the country illegally,” mainstream Azerbaijani news outlets cited Ali Hasanov, President Ilham Aliyev’s senior aide for political issues, as saying. Failure to get accreditation from Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry, as required by government regulations, led to the recent detentions of journalists from MeydanTV, he claimed.
Such measures may not be the usual response for bureaucratic lapses, but that didn’t give Hasanov pause. As international criticism of Azerbaijan’s rights-record increases, particularly in the wake of investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova's imprisonment*, Hasanov and other officials show no sign of loosening things up.
Most recently, a 19-year-old reporter with Meydan TV was detained and sentenced to 30 days in jail for allegedly resisting police. Several other journalists from the Internet broadcaster, an outlet critical of President Aliyev’s rule, were summoned to police stations. Meydan TV and international media-rights observers said the company and its director, Emin Milli, have become the target for a government harassment campaign.
Baku also has picked up its crackdown on critical reporters internationally, announcing plans earlier this month to sue the French public television station France2 for a program that termed Aliyev a dictator.
Officials consider such claims part of an anti-Azerbaijani smear campaign, but media-rights groups say the government's measures are only trumped-up excuses to try and muzzle the media.
*Khadija Ismayilova has worked as a freelance journalist for EurasiaNet.org.