While foreign media support the notion that Azerbaijan has fallen into the totalitarian trap, Baku has argued that the press lack objectivity.
Over the past two months, Azerbaijan has been the subject of much criticism, accused by both the European Union officials and the United States of engaging in practices which are contrary to international law.
While Baku has never shied away from its responsibilities, openly admitting that as a young democracy much effort still needs to be exerted in order to manifest principles of fairness, civil liberties, and social justice, officials have expressed great dismay towards what they feel has become a politically motivated witch-hunt against Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to London, Tahir Taghizadeh, actually took to the press earlier this December in view of addressing some of the assertions media and politicians have made against Baku, hoping to give perspective to an issue he felt has been very one-sided and at times bias in its approach.
Azerbaijan’s bad press-run began early October when Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, wrote an article in The Guardian in which he paints a rather grim picture of Azerbaijan’s human rights track records, slamming Baku for its alleged political repression and oppression campaign against members of the opposition, using 2013 as a point of reference.
Jagland refers to the imprisonment in February 2013 of Ilgar Mammado , a prominent politician and leader of the Republican Alternative Movement, arguing that the authorities plotted to have him indicted for rioting to not only silence his calls for change but also hinder his political ambitions. Mammado was a candidate in Azerbaijan’s 2013 presidential elections.
He wrote, “Earlier this month, the European court of human rights, which is part of the Council of Europe, confirmed an earlier decision ruling that Azerbaijan’s arrest and detention of Ilgar Mammadov, a well-known opposition politician and commentator, violated the European convention on human rights.”
To which he added, “The judgment was as critical as it was clear: the court concluded that ‘the actual purpose of his detention had been to silence or punish Mammadov for criticizing the government and publishing information it was trying to hide.’”
Jagland’s harsh criticism of Azerbaijan was echoed by reports in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) earlier this December when the cases of Leyla Yunus and Khadija Ismayilova were raised.
Both human rights defenders argued that RFE/RL, an organization that receives funding from the United States Congress, have suffered abuses and mistreatments as a results of their advocacy work and denunciation of Baku’s authoritarian stance toward freedom of expression.
Nenad Pejic, the editor in chief of RFE/RL, condemned Ismayilova’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment, stating, “The arrest and detention of Khadija Ismayilova is the latest attempt in a two-year campaign to silence a journalist who has investigated government corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan … The charges brought against her today are outrageous. Khadija is being punished for her journalism.”
Also critical of Azerbaijan was Dunja Mijatovic, the representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who commented for RFE/FL, “The arrest of Ismayilova is nothing but orchestrated intimidation, which is a part of the ongoing campaign aimed at silencing her free and critical voice. I repeat my call on the authorities in Azerbaijan to stop this practice, which is detrimental to media freedom.”
On the same day, RFE/RL slammed Baku for its alleged human rights violations, calling on the international community to mobilize against the state and ensure that measures be taken to prevent further attacks against members of the foreign press.
Washington acted to stereo to such concerns, thus cementing Baku’s guilt into western media. In a statement, Marie Harf, a State Department spokesperson stressed, “Broadly speaking, we are deeply troubled by restrictions on civil society activities, including on journalists in Azerbaijan, and are increasingly concerned that the government there is not living up to its international commitments and obligations.”
Foreign Meddling, Says Baku
Angered by what they qualify as politically-motivated slander, Baku officials have made clear they will not tolerate for the state to be dragged in the media mud on hearsay and half-truths alone. Ambassador Taghizadeh argued that the state should be offered the courtesy of running its own investigation, away from the glare of the media, before being burned to the pillory and branded authoritarian.
Although Baku’s detractors have translated Ismayilova’s arrest as yet another manifestation of Azerbaijan’s increasingly arbitrary rule, state officials have defended their position by invoking national security, warning against foreign meddling and political manipulations. Ambassador Taghizadeh said that Azerbaijanshould be offered the courtesy of running its own investigations, away from the glare of the media, before being burned to the pillory and its institutions branded
Ambassador Taghizadef strongly asserted in his answer to Jagland’s scathing critic, “When it comes to efforts to politicize recent arrests in Azerbaijan, I should make it clear that before arriving at hasty decisions, it is crucial that law enforcement bodies are allowed sufficient time to conclude investigations. As it is the case in all rule-based societies, in Azerbaijan we firmly believe that people should not hide behind their professional activities when they breach the law.”
Moreover, “The law remains a law only if it is applied universally. If law is applied selectively, then it becomes an instrument of repression,” he emphasized.
While officials have warned they would not allow “bad press” to dictate or even influence state decisions, refuting any claims of wrong-doings; they admitted to feeling the unwarranted targets of western media’s ire.
Ramiz Mehdiyev, Azerbaijan President Ilhan Aliyev’s Chief of Staff, actually defined recent negative media reports as being symptomatic of a subversive covert foreign political agenda.
But if officials in Azerbaijan remain adamant that the authorities acted well within the law of the country, arguing that regardless of how western media wish to portray developments, Baku will stand the course, they expressed concerns that such media misrepresentation is actually symptomatic of a subversive covert political foreign agenda.
Addressing such an issue, Mehdiyev, published a manifesto in which he accused the United States of pursuing covert colonial ambitions in the Caucasus region, playing propaganda and libel as weapons to discredit Baku’s rule before the international community, only to impose its will and legitimize its intervention should it deem fit.
Ever since President Viktor F. Yanukovych was toppled in Ukraine in February, journalists and politicians in Azerbaijan have been concerned Washington would attempt to bring former Soviet republics under its banner to create a buffer zone to Russia’s hegemonic ambitions and reign in on Moscow political traction.
It is actually such fears of foreign meddling Mehdiyev referred to when he slammed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Azadliq Radio, accusing their management of serving the agenda of “foreign patrons.”
Speaking of Ismayilova’s case, he emphasized, “She puts on anti-Azerbaijani shows, makes absurd statements, openly demonstrates a destructive attitude towards well-known members of the Azerbaijani community, and spreads insulting lies … There is no need to prove that the provision of false information is the same as working for the foreign secret service … This is treason.”
While foreign media have very much fallen into Washington’s narrative, supporting the notion that Azerbaijan has fallen into the totalitarian trap, Baku has begged to differ, arguing the press has lacked objectivity.