Anonymity in Azerbaijan

In a country where just being a journalist is a danger itself, what can be said about the sources? Do they too face threat of imprisonment or physical harm from the government?

In regards to anonymous sources, the policies are quite simple and straightforward. According to Principle 2.1 of the Code of Professional Ethics for Journalists of Azerbaijan as mandated by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe:

“The source must always be indicated while disseminating official information from organizations, parties, societies, unions and other interest groups. However, if the person who provides the information prefers to remain anonymous, journalists or media entities must adhere to his/her privacy conditions. The confidentiality of the source of information shall be protected.”

Yet after looking through several popular Azeri news outlets, it seems like the use of anonymous sources isn’t that widespread. I believe it is because subjects that sources should be nervous talking about are generally not reported on. The threats facing professional organizations, individual persons, or journalists when reporting on such touchy subjects are so great that people refuse to speak at all.

In fact, the truth is that rather than sources facing danger when speaking to journalists, journalists are in danger of publishing stories where sources are used to shed light on government corruption. In other words, journalists are usually very open about their sources and sources who are willing to speak generally do not request anonymity. However, when journalists do publish stories that defame the Azerbaijani government, their sources are generally investigative reports with facts and numbers, rather than actual human witnesses coming forward to speak.

Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

Take for example the investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who was jailed last month for two months, awaiting a trial on charges of inciting an attempted suicide among several other bogus charges. Ismayilova has published several reports looking into corruption surrounding President Aliyev’s family and is a spokesperson for the necessity for freedom of press. This report details the abuse of villagers by police with anonymous sources, while another report analyzes the corrupt ties between the president and TeliaSonera, the country’s leading mobile phone provider. The TeliaSonera report provides examples of the danger faced by the press as well as the locked lips of those who refuse to reveal the government’s corrupt actions.

This is by no means the governments first time attempted to stifle Khadija’s pen from flowing. In a somewhat childish backlash aimed to tarnish Khadija’s reputation, the government released a photo and video smear campaign accusing her of leading a “sexual” life, something that is frowned upon in Azeri society. Following that, the government placed a travel ban on her in order to prevent her from testifying at an anti-Corruption conference in the U.S.

Here is an extremely interesting interview with Khadija that sheds some light on not only her job as a journalist, but also of the Azerbaijani government’s attempt to silence its critics.

In two statements that quintessentially summarize my personal feelings towards the attacks toward Khadija Ismayilova, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty Chief Editor Nenad Pejic has said:

“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.”

Followed by a statement by Dunja Mijatovic, an OSCE representative:

“The arrest of Ismailova is nothing but orchestrated intimidation, which is a part of the ongoing campaign aimed at silencing her free and critical voice.”

If you would like to know more, check out this awesome site to find out more about Khadija.

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One thought on “Anonymity in Azerbaijan

  1. Pingback: Investigating Azerbaijan | Journalism in Hostile Environments: Azerbaijan

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