The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) expressed deep concern after recent developments in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan indicate a new drop in the level of media freedoms and human rights protection.
On 12 May, the Sabail District Court of Baku issued a decision to block five media websites: Meydan TV, Turan TV, Azerbaycan Saati, Azadliq daily and local RWB news outlet Azadliq. The Prosecutor General claimed these outlets present a “threat to Azerbaijan’s national security”. The ruling was a result of a complaint made by the Communications and High Technologies Ministry, which initially limited access to the aforementioned websites on 27 March. In 2016, online defamation was made a criminal offence in Azerbaijan, punishable by imprisonment.
Ramazan Yesergepov, a prominent Kazakh journalist and activist was assaulted and stabbed in the abdomen in the early morning hours of 14 May. The chairman of the media freedom group Journalists in Danger was attacked by two unknown men while he was travelling by train from Almaty to Astana. Yesergepov was on his way to a meeting with foreign diplomats to discuss the position of activists and journalists in Kazakhstan, many of whom are imprisoned, attacked and work in difficult conditions. Another topic of discussion was supposed to be the failure of the Kazakh government to comply with the decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee, including the journalist’s own case. Yesergepov was hospitalized and underwent surgery because of his injuries.
“SEEMO members were horrified by both of these incidents” Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General stated. “We call on authorities in Kazakhstan to immediately launch a transparent and swift investigation and uncover the perpetrators of this brutal attack against Ramazan Yesergepov. As for Azerbaijan, the blatant abuse and censorship expressed against independent and critical media outlets in the country is not only dangerous for freedom of speech, but also basic human rights of media workers and activists. We call on the international community to assist us in sending a strong message to both governments, and help us in improving working and living conditions for free thinkers in the region” Vujovic added.
SEEMO is a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in South, East and Central Europe.