Azerbaijan: Censorship, crackdowns, and targeted journalists

Prison sentences, jail time, or blackmailing – all that is reality for many journalists who speak their mind openly in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani journalist and blogger Arzu Geybulla faces similar threats. However, she has not lost determination to push for human rights and freedom of the press in her country.  Above all, she energetically advocates for a peaceful resolution between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

According to Geybullla, during the past decade the country’s overall freedoms have been declining. Journalists or other critical voices are not tolerated while the space for independent journalism is limited. Investigative journalists are targeted on an ongoing basis.

‘One of these journalists is Khadija Ismayil. In 2012, Ismayil was blackmailed with a video and photos of sensitive nature of her and her boyfriend, taken in the apartment she was renting and living in at that time. Two years later, a bogus criminal case was launched against her and she was arrested. She was later sentenced to jail.’

But neither prison sentences or jail time have stopped journalists from working for online news outlets critical of the government or those providing independent coverage of social and political affairs. Family members are also affected – some have lost their jobs, some have been harassed by the police and local officials, some have been arrested and sent to jail. Since May 2017, due to new legislation, several independent and opposition websites have been blocked in the country.

In 2014, a time when Azerbaijan’s civil society was facing an unprecedented crackdown, Geybulla too was targeted – as a result of her critical reporting, her human rights work, and her work with an Istanbul-based Armenian/Turkish newspaper Agos, where she published articles related to Azerbaijan. At the time, she considered taking a break from journalism, as a consequence of a defamation campaign, which included even her family. She tried to deal with the threats on her own by ignoring them, but it became harder. She kept reading all the news, messages or comments which mentioned her. Geybulla took the time she needed to process it all, and kept working.

‘Then came the “facing the threat” moment. So I sat down and I told myself: “Bring it on”. I went through hundreds of comments and identified the most violent and aggressive ones. I took notes, saved screenshots, and when the right time came, I eventually wrote a piece about state-sponsored harassment.’

Looking back at her experience, Geybulla now finds it beneficial. ‘In many ways, I am glad I came out of that experience not as a victim, but as someone who got through – and I can now help others by talking about the experience.’


Text vznikl v rámci kurzu Angličtina pro žurnalisty pod vedením Mgr. Aleny Proškové.  


Foto: Berge Arabian

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