A leading human rights NGO in Azerbaijan has linked the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia last month – referred to as a “contract killing” – to the climate of repression against journalists in Azerbaijan and her reports on the links between the ruling elite in Azerbaijan and the Maltese government.
The South Caucasian republic with which Malta enjoys close relationships based on energy agreements, is dominated by the family of dictator Ilham Aliyev, who in 2012 was awarded ‘ Person of the Year’ by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
The statement lists Caruana Galizia in a long list of human rights abuses perpetuated against journalists in Azerbaijan.
The statement issued by the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, an NGO campaigning for press freedom, stated: “The recent shocking contract-killing of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who investigated the corruption links between the ruling elite of Azerbaijan and Malta, should be seen as the latest culmination point of intolerance and impunity for crimes against journalists”.
The IRFS is a non-government organization founded in 2006 by Azerbaijani journalists Emin Huseynov and Sarvan Rizvanov to support journalists and freedom of the media in Azerbaijan.
In its statement the IRFS referred to extra judicial kidnapping of Azeri journalists in other countries. One such case involved Afghan Mukhtarli, who was kidnapped in neighboring Georgia and illegally transfer him to Azerbaijan, where he was tortured and illegally.
The organisation has also called on the Azerbaijani authorities to end the impunity for crimes against journalists by ensuring and guaranteeing their complete safety.
Over the past twelve years, six journalists namely Elmar Huseynov, Alim Kazimli, Novruzali Mammadov, Rafig Tagi and Rasim Aliyev and blogger Mehman Galandarov suffered violent deaths in Azerbaijan. In five of these cases the crimes resulted in death, went unpunished.
“By torturing innocent journalists and arresting them on trumped-up charges, the Azerbaijani authorities in fact contribute to and promote impunity for crimes against journalists at the State level,” IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov said.
Intolerance towards journalists is forcing them to exercise self-censorship or leave Azerbaijan, according to the human rights organisation. Even journalists who have fled Azerbaijan have been detained abroad at the request of Interpol, as recently happened to Fikrat Huseynli in Ukraine.
IRFS also condemned the authorities of Azerbaijan for blocking the Internet in order to prevent live broadcasts on YouTube, Facebook, Periscope and Instagram by independent media outlets.
The NGO has called on UNESCO and the UN to make serious demands on the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure the safety of journalists, and unless these demands are fulfilled, to cancel – as the first sanction on the part of the organisation – the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador status of First Vice-President of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva.
IRFS further also called on the Council of Europe and the EU to take a tougher approach freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.
The cosy relationship between Malta and Azerbaijan had prompted another Azeri NGO – The Civic Solidarity Platform – to denounce the fact that Azeri oligarchs consider Malta to be “one of its provinces”. The claim was made in an extensive report issued in March.