With the Eurovision approaching, it’s time to draw attention to the lack of human rights in Azerbaijan
He was recently awarded the journalism prize at the Index on Censorship free expression awards for his efforts to promote human rights and free speech within the media in Azerbaijan.
“Where I have come from, telling the truth can cost a journalist their life”, he said. “In countries such as Azerbaijan we journalists have to make a choice, and we choose the right to tell the truth.”
Near the town of the capital Baku, Abbasov and fellow journalists were filming a documentary about the demolition of houses by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR).
The journalist had been investigating the activity of the company in the previous year, when the company sent bulldozers to his family’s home, leaving him and his brother hospitalised.
In a repeat attack against Abbasov last week, reports show that the company pulled over the taxi they were travelling in, pulled him from the car, where he was knocked unconscious, kicked and beaten. Their recordings were also deleted and equipment damaged.
His brother told reporters that after the brutal attack, they also started beating him, and the police blocked doctors from reaching their home.
As a stark reminder of the freedom of expression we have in the UK, Abbasov is a founding member of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS). As an organisation set up to monitor the media, they reported that more than 50 domestic and foreign journalists were harassed or attacked in 2011.
He’s also spoken of fellow journalist Elmar Guseinov who gave his life to the cause in 2005.
“He knew he would not be forgiven, but he did not stop writing the truth”, he said.
The Independent reported last month how investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova was blackmailed in Azerbaijan with intimate images taken of her, with an accompanying warning to behave or face the threat of defamation. She refused in spite of living in a society still rife with honour killings, and a video, filmed with a hidden camera, was made public. She has spoken about how she fears there is a continuing smear campaign being conducted against her by the Azeri government in retaliation for her journalism.
Shaun Walker described how the government are “keen to project an image of a modern, prosperous society that is developing fast, but critics say that beneath the shiny veneer, the government of President Ilham Aliyev is sinister and corrupt.”
Kirsty Hughes, Index’s chief executive, has urged the Azerbaijan government to launch a full, transparent and independent investigation into the brutal attacks against Abbasov:
“The fact that police were present and failed to intervene reveals the level of hostility against journalists and activists among Azerbaijan’s authorities.”
It was relatively unreported in the wake of the Arab Spring that the government cracked down on a series of protests inspired by the pro-democracy movements, with police violently dispersing protests.
The Human Rights Watch also reported how last year, police physically obstructed protesters from a rally and detained over 200 people, including public figures, journalists, and opposition activists. Fourteen were sentenced in unfair trials with up to three years imprisonment.
Amnesty International recently launched a video campaign to raise awareness over Azerbaijan’s poor human rights.
After their 2011 win, this year’s Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Azerbaijan next month. It hopes to be presented as a modern and democratic country. But the reality is that journalists such as Idrak Abbasov are risking their lives to support human rights through their work.
“This is the price that my colleagues in Azerbaijan are paying for the right of the Azerbaijani people to know the truth about what is happening in their country. For the sake of this right we accept that our lives are in danger, as are the lives of our families. But the goal is worth it, since the right to truth is worth more than a life without truth.”Tagged in: Azerbaijan, Eurovision song contest, Idrak Abbasov, Ilham Aliyev, Khadija Ismayilova, Kirsty Hughes
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter