The UN’s Human Rights Committee has found Azerbaijan guilty of denying two journalists known to be critical of the government the right to freedom of expression, according to a
released by the Council on March 16.
The Azerbaijan government was found to have breached Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression.
The two journalists had taken to the Committee a complaint about the state of radio and television media in Azerbaijan, arguing that the government actively impedes free competition over licences to broadcast in order to stifle the press.
Editor-in-chief of the weekly Azerbaijani newspaper Muhakima Yashar Aghazade and Chair of the Azerbaijani Public Union for Television and Alternative Media Development Rasul Jafarov, first raised the complaint with the country’s National Television and Radio Council in 2010.
Their complaint focused on radio broadcasting and called on the Council to release information about available frequencies on public radio which media organizations could use for their broadcasts, despite being required to do so according to the law.
For example, the government had previously denied Radio Liberty, Voice of America and the BBC the right to broadcast, freeing up their frequencies.
They also argued that the Council had broken the law by not holding public tenders in which media organisations could bid for these available frequencies. The last time the Council had announced such a tender was in 2008, subsequently allocating licences to broadcast without an open and transparent bidding process.
Aghazade and Jafarov contended that the Council had thereby “ensured a political monopoly over television and radio broadcasting” and had thus violated Article 19 and their right to freedom of expression.
The journalists subsequently took their claim as far as Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court, but finding it dismissed they appealed to the UN’s Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including Article 19.
Following its own investigation the UN body found that the “limitations imposed on the authors to have access to a radio frequency were arbitrary in nature and amounted to a violation of their rights.”
It concluded the country should not only provide Aghazade and Jafarov with compensation, but also revise its law in order to guarantee pluralism in the media.
“The State party is also under an obligation to prevent similar violations in the future and to review its laws on television and radio broadcasting,” the UN body concluded.
It must also ensure that “radio broadcasting licenses appertaining to available broadcast frequencies are actually allocated on the basis of clear and transparent procedures guaranteeing regular and open competitions… with the aim of promoting media pluralism.”
The UNHRC decision, however, is not binding. Azerbaijan continues to be ranked ‘Not Free’ in the Freedom House measure of press freedom.
“Azerbaijan’s media environment has continually deteriorated in recent years as a result of a government campaign to silence criticism and dissent,” Freedom House states.