Source: Interview with Radio Liberty
The dust has not yet settled from the European Games, as the Azerbaijani government is intensifying its crackdown on independent journalists. Four Meydan TV contributors were barred from leaving Azerbaijan just two days after the European Games wrapped up on June 28. Ayten Alakbarova, Şirin Tire Abbasov, Natiq Cavadli and Elnur Muxtar were stopped at the border with Georgia while travelling to Tbilisi and placed on a government “blacklist.”
Meydan TV founder and prominent activist and blogger Emin Milli, who currently lives in Germany, received personal threats from the Azerbaijani government several days ago. A chilling message from the Azerbaijani Sports Minister read the following: “No matter where you are, the state of Azerbaijan will catch and punish you.” On his Facebook page, Milli, whose online channel covers corruption, social issues and human rights in Azerbaijan, wrote the following: " If anything happens to me, then I want everyone to know that only you [Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev] are (as President of this country and as mafia boss) completely responsible for this."
Do you have any information about an investigation being conducted into Meydan TV or any related criminal case being launched? Have you received any official notification about this?
Meydan TV was not informed about this either formally or informally. This is why the fact that the journalists who contribute any material or article to Meydan TV are not allowed to leave the country is something new for us.
What do you think might be the reason? What is going on?
In fact, what is happening is not new to me. For the past two years, Meydan TV has been functioning and developing as an independent media entity. Its audience has increased. We have been able to do it despite hardships and journalists living in fear.
The government is yet again trying to put pressure on a professional and independently functioning media group and completely halt its work. What is really interesting to me is that this occurred right on the next day after the European Games wrapped up. I see it as the government’s official recognition of Meydan TV’s success.
Pro-government journalists always write that Meydan TV is a marginal media outlet, and that it is useless and no one really reads or watches it.
If this is true, then I do not understand why independent media is treated like this in Azerbaijan.
Meydan TV is considered as German media, and it is not possible to stop its work. We will always function. The government simply shows its weakness by banning persons who send us any material, articles or videos from Azerbaijan from leaving the country.
Meydan TV journalists
We heard that you have also been threatened recently.
I received information on June 21. This was definitely a threat from the government. They passed the information on behalf of Minister Azad Rahimov, but I believe that it was an order made directly by President Ilham Aliyev. I don’t think that Azad Rahimov has any personal problems with me. He is just an executor. I believe a state should not speak with its own citizens in the language of threat.
What exactly was the message about?
The message was as follows: “What did Azerbaijan do to you? Why did you organize a world campaign against Azerbaijan? No matter where you are, the state of Azerbaijan will catch and punish you. It doesn’t matter whether you are in Germany or anywhere else.”
After I received this message, I went to the German police and passed all the information and facts that I had in hand to the police. The German police promised me to take all the necessary steps under the law.
This is not the first threat against Meydan TV. In 2013, our employee Habib Muntazir was threatened with death. Back then, we were able to save Habib Muntazir with the help of the German police. This is already the second threat.
German media has also covered this issue. The latest piece on this was published on Sunday. The article titled, “Shame On You,” addressed the Azerbaijani government. Also, a German TV channel discussed threats targeting me right after the news about the Games.
What spurred you to become an activist?
In 2005, I decided to join civil society after I was influenced by Elmar Huseynov’s murder. They killed Elmar Huseynov to silence the Azerbaijani media. However, this did not happen.
In her interviews, Khadija Ismayil too mentioned that she had decided to continue her work without fearing anything after Elmar Huseynov was murdered. Now she may stay in jail for about 12 years. My story is the same as Khadija’s.
I believe being an active citizen is my civic duty. Now as the leader of Meydan TV, my mission is to provide independent and impartial media to Azerbaijan. We will accomplish this mission without fearing anything until the end of our lives.
Even though they killed Elmar and arrested Khadija, even if tomorrow they do something to me I am sure that new people will emerge on the next day, and this fight will be eternal. I believe the fight for freedom of speech is the most fundamental part of the fight for freedom.
What steps are you planning to take now concerning the ban on leaving the country imposed on journalists working with you?
So far we do not know the reasons. We have not addressed anyone. Now the journalists are coming back to Baku. Most probably, they will talk to the Ministry of Internal Affairs when they arrive to Baku.
Do you also consider legal defense?
We certainly think about legal defense as well. However, unfortunately in Azerbaijan the rule of law is not protected, the courts work under orders, and even lawyers of the repressed journalists and activists are discharged from legal work.
In this situation, we must keep the independent media alive in Azerbaijan. We must improve it and inform our society.
We will be doing everything necessary within the legal dimension. We will inform international institutions. What is more important today is that people should understand what risks journalists take, what difficulties they face and what challenges they encounter to spread information that is so important to the society.
I think each one of the journalists who work under these circumstances is a hero. I hope the society of Azerbaijan will also understand that our biggest wealth is such journalists and citizens, and not oil or the European Games.
This is very important, and as soon as millions of Azeris understand this, we will be able to live in a different Azerbaijan.