De Panama papers, Khadija en persvrijheid

Fantastisch! De UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Persvrijheidsprijs 2016 is toegekend aan de Azerbeidjaanse onderzoeksjournalist Khadija Ismaiylova. Ze zal de prijs –een geldbedrag van $25.000- niet zelf in ontvangst kunnen nemen op persvrijheidsdag 3 mei, want ze zit in de gevangenis. Khadija is tot zevenenhalf jaar veroordeeld wegens “zwendel, belastingfraude en machtsmisbruik”.

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De UNESCO-prijs, de belangrijkste internationale onderscheiding op het gebied van persvrijheid en genoemd naar de in 1986 vermoorde Colombiaanse journalist Guillermo Cano, is dik verdiend. Niet alleen voor Khadija maar het is ook een opsteker voor alle dappere onderzoeksjournalisten in ’moeilijke landen’.

Ik was diep onder de indruk van Khadija toen ik haar meemaakte tijdens de internationale persvrijheidsdag in Parijs, 3 mei 2013. Ze stelde lastige vragen. Brutaal. Humoristisch. Nam geen blad voor de mond en bleek niet bereid compromissen te sluiten als het om het zoeken naar waarheid gaat.

Recentelijk werden, via de Panama Papers, details bekend gemaakt over de corrupte praktijken van Azerbeidjaans’ president Ilham Aliyev en zijn familie. Aliyev’s twee dochters blijken 56% van de aandelen te bezitten van een consortium van goudmijnen in het land. Het consortium mag 70% van de winst houden, 30% is voor de staatskas. Fijne regeling…

Ook andere leden van Aliyev’s familie en entourage blijken betrokken te zijn bij schimmige zakendeals. De presidentiele offshore family heeft grote delen van Azerbeidjaans’ mijnbouw, banken, toerisme, media en hoogwaardig vastgoed in handen.

De Panama Papers bevestigden eerdere publicaties van onder andere het OCCRP en de organisator van het Panama-consortium, het International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Sterreporter bij al dat graaf- en speurwerk in Azerbeidzjan de afgelopen jaren was freelance journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

Een van de interessantste aspecten bij de reuze scoop van de Panama papers is de deelname aan het consortium van veel media organisaties uit dictatoriale of autoritaire landen in het Midden-Oosten, Oost-Europa, Centraal-Azië en Afrika. Onderzoeksjournalistiek in die landen brengt enorme risico’s met zich mee maar het gebeurt en wordt steeds professioneler. Publicatiemogelijkheden op online platforms, grotere kennis van datajournalistiek en nieuwe onderzoekstechnieken en vooral ook het regionaal en internationaal netwerken van onderzoeksjournalisten, heeft aan de hausse bijgedragen.

Die betere en agressievere (onderzoeks-)journalistiek is, denk ik, een zegen voor meer persvrijheid in de wereld. Je kunt Khadija en haar collega’s in de gevangenis zetten maar –zo blijkt- steeds moeilijker de mond snoeren.

Eerder gepubliceerd in Villamedia mei 2016

Updated list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan

A new list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan has just been published. The list now comprises of 80 names, as compared to the 98 which were included in the list published in August last year. Although this means that there have been some very welcome releases, the Government of Azerbaijan continues its policy of imprisoning what they consider opponents.

The last few weeks, prominent human rights defenders Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev were convicted to many years’ prison. In 2014, Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan received the Sakharov Freedom Award from NHC.

To draw attention to the growing number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan and the unprecedented wave of repression seen of late, civil society organizations operating within the country present this report. The number of politically motivated arrests, detentions, and imprisonments has increased sharply after the 26 January 2013 defeat of a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolution on “The follow-up to the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan.”[1] Astonishingly, the situation has become even worse since Azerbaijan assumed presidency at the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on 14 May 2014.

In April 2015, the report was updated; the names of the released political prisoners were removed from the list, as well as those new prisoners, who were arrested after the list of 98 political prisoners was prepared, were included in the report.

This report contains a list of cases of those currently detained or imprisoned on politically motivated charges. The list has been drawn up according to the criteria set out in PACE Resolution No. 1900, from 3 October 2012.[2]

To compile this report, a series of consultations were conducted with local human rights defenders who: 1) studied relevant reports of local and international human rights organizations; 2) examined documents from influential international organizations that Azerbaijan is member of, and has commitments to – in particular, the Council of Europe; 3) monitored the press; 4) monitored court cases; 5) examined court verdicts and other legal documents; 5) and interviewed the families, lawyers, and defense committees of the political prisoners included in this report.

The report provides detailed information about each of the political prisoners, including the facts and circumstances of their arrests, political motivations, and photos. (Photos were not available for every prisoner.)

Cases included in the report are divided into seven categories:

  1. Journalists and bloggers
  2. Human rights defenders
  3. Youth activists
  4. Politicians
  5. Religious activists
  6. Life term prisoners
  7. Other cases

The last three categories are divided into subcategories, which are detailed in the report.

The full list can be found attached here.

From Den Norske Helsingforskomite (DNH) 19-5-2015


[1]              http://bit.ly/P8Z2Qy

[2]              http://bit.ly/1piq992

Azeri President should release seven jailed journalists

In a letter sent today, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) call on Azerbaijan President, Ilham Aliyev, to release all seven journalists who are currently behind bars.

Download the full letter.

In recent years Azerbaijan has developed a reputation as one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists. In the past 12 months numerous journalists and human rights activists have fallen victim of what appears to be a deliberate campaign to silence critical voices in the build up to the first ever European Olympics to take place in Azerbaijan in June 2015.

The imprisoned journalists include:

  1. Nijat Aliyev, arrested 20 May 2012
  2. Araz Guliyev, arrested 8 September 2012
  3. Parviz Hashimli, arrested 17 September 2013
  4. Seymur Hazi, arrested 29 August 2014
  5. Khadija Ismayilova, arrested 5 December 2014
  6. Hilal Mamedov, arrested 21 June 2012
  7. Rauf Mirkadyrov, arrested 19 April 2014

Full details of the charges against them can be found on the Council of Europe’s Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists developed in co-operation with the IFJ and EFJ.

IFJ president, Jim Boumelha, said:

“We are alarmed at the scale of attacks against press freedom in a country that is a member of the Council of Europe and should abide by its principles on freedom of expression as laid down in article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Our colleagues should be released immediately without condition.”

Most prominent among these is the case of Khadija Ismayilova who was arrested in December 2014 initially on spurious charges of incitement to suicide and since replaced with charges of libel and tax evasion for which she risks up to 7 years imprisonment.

Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, EFJ president said:

“Given Azerbaijan’s record on press freedom, we fear that journalists travelling to report the European Olympics will face restriction and censorship. While we warn foreign journalists to take extra precaution during the coverage of the Olympics, we urge the government to ensure that both national and foreign journalists can exercise their rights to freedom of expression and conduct any journalistic activities freely and independently.”

In February it was revealed that Emin Huseynov, Director of Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) has been holding up in the Swiss embassy since August 2014 fearing arrest following a raid on the IRFS offices. Huseynov was recently awarded €15.000 compensation by the European Court of Human Rights for abuse in police custody that he suffered in 2008.

In addition to jailing journalists on trumped up charges the government has successfully squeezed what remains of ‘independent’ press through a range of mechanisms, including excessive financial penalties imposed on media, government control over the advertising market and restrictions of the national distribution and printing systems. Newspapers Zerkalo and Azadliq are on the point of closure, while Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty has been closed since December.

Last month the Azeri media reported that the government was issuing warnings to journalists applying for visas to attend the European Olympics. While acknowledging the right to engage in journalistic activities the rules threaten “any media person found spreading distorted information on Azerbaijan, thus unfairly representing the country’s interests will face the full force of the law.”

The IFJ/ EFJ warned that the “continued incarceration does great damage not only to the country’s reputation, but also to its aspirations of becoming a modern, stable democracy with international standards of human rights and respect for freedom of expression.”

The IFJ/EFJ have launched a joint campaign: Hands off press freedom in Azerbaijan.

See also the campaign for jailed Azeri journalist Khadija Ismailova:http://occrp.org/free-khadija-ismayilova/Donnelly_small