The Azerbaijani government is using criminal laws and violent attacks to silence dissenting journalists, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Dozens of journalists have been prosecuted on criminal and civil defamation and other criminal charges. Police have carried out physical attacks on journalists, deliberately interfering with their efforts to investigate issues of public interest.
The 94-page report, “Beaten, Blacklisted, and Behind Bars: The Vanishing Space for Freedom of Expression in Azerbaijan,” documents the government’s efforts to limit freedom of expression. The government should free imprisoned journalists and repeal criminal libel laws that allow public officials and others to bring criminal charges against journalists and activists, Human Rights Watch said. It also should prosecute violence or threats against reporters, which now go unpunished. The attacks on free speech threaten to undermine the legitimacy of parliamentary elections scheduled for November 7, 2010, Human Rights Watch said.