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27.09.2017

Journalist banned to leave Azerbaijan regardless of health concerns

By Emil Weber

An appeal by Ms. Aynur Gambarova, an Azerbaijani journalist who was banned nearly two years ago from travelling abroad, has been refused by the authorities in Azerbaijan despite her severe health concerns.

Azerbaijani flag Azerbaijan’s human rights record is shameful

Ms. Gambarova, known as Aynur Elgunesh by pen name, was travelling to Ukraine in 2015 when she learned she was being investigated. "I was stopped at the airport before my flight, and was told that I am banned from leaving the country", she recently told ECPMF.

She then contacted the office of the general prosecutor to find out the reason behind the ban. “I was told in writing that I was banned from leaving the country due to the criminal case opened for Meydan TV in November, 2015”. Meydan TV staff have faced increased pressure from the government and its supportive media from 2014 onwards, leading to its branch closure in Baku. It is now based in Berlin. According to its lawyer Mr. Elchin Sadigov, in November 2015 the TV channel was under criminal investigation for illegal entrepreneurship, major tax evasion, and interference in elections.

Several press freedom organisations and prominent media, including "The Washington Post", have connected the actions of the authorities to the critical reporting by Meydan TV on high officials’ corruption and Azerbaijan’s four-day conflict with Armenia in 2016.

15 journalists are being investigated 

Ms. Gambarova has gone through difficult moments since the ban. “After the ban on leaving the country, my father died in a traffic accident. Shortly afterwards my mother passed away, too”, she says. According to the Meydan TV lawyer, Mr. Sadigov, she had also been receiving continual death threats.

The journalist says she has a disability of Category II and had undergone surgery nine times in advance of the events for which she was sanctioned. “The (recent) stress I had to endure both in my career and in my family life severely damaged my health”, Ms. Gambarova told ECPMF. “I started having pains on my legs. Also, I discovered cysts in my breast”. She had earlier undergone an operation for breast cysts, but later when she was examined by doctors in Turkey she was told there had been no need for that surgery. “Now I have pains again, and must have a medical examination”.

Ms. Gambarova says she wrote to the Prosecutor of the Republic requesting permission to travel to Turkey. “They did not respond to me”, she said. When she lodged the request at the Nasimi Regional Court, it was rejected since the court said she was a witness, among others, in the case against Meydan TV. The Baku (capital city) Appeals Court confirmed this decision”.

In May 2016, Meydan TV reported that 15 of its journalists were being investigated. They were mostly being banned from travelling, but under no official prosecutorial charges. 

Earlier in September 2017 the ECPMF supported Ms. Gambarova with 1000 euro in her efforts to remove the travel ban. She says at the moment she is trying to address her case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Nations in Transit, a report published by the US government-backed Freedom House organisation, classified Azerbaijan in 2017 as a “consolidated authoritarian regime”.

The ECPMF chairman Henrik Kaufholz wrote an open letter to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on September 22nd reminding them of Azerbaijan's "shameful" human rights record. "We need to free the jailed journalists, remove the threat from dissidents who live in fear and help create an Azerbaijan that earns the respect of Europe’s citizens".

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