An attack on a group of journalists in Azerbaijan at a demolition site has drawn widespread international condemnation and is serving as a bitter reminder of the bleak conditions for media in this former Soviet nation.
Colleagues of award-winning reporter Idrak Abbasov say he was savagely beaten Wednesday by a large group of police officers and security guards for the state energy company while he was filming the controversial wrecking of houses near oil deposits. Other journalists were also reportedly attacked at the site.
The incident is casting a dark shadow over the government's hopes of showcasing the oil-rich country when it hosts the glitzy Eurovision song contest next month.
Amnesty International, one of a raft of rights organizations demanding an investigation into the attack, said it was shocked.
"One would have thought that with the Eurovision just around the corner and images from Baku about to be beamed around the world, the authorities would be on their best behavior," John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia director, said Thursday in a statement.
Other groups _ including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists _ have also issued sharply worded statements.
Abbasov, who last month won the journalism award from the Index on Censorship, is only the latest journalist to fall foul of intimidation and physical aggression in Azerbaijan, where dissent against the overbearing rule of President Ilkham Aliyev is not tolerated.
"Azerbaijan has a history of unpunished attacks on critical journalists. Independent journalists, human rights defenders and others seeking to express their opinions ... or criticize government authorities have been attacked, harassed, threatened and imprisoned." New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
Aliyev came to power in 2003 in what was in effect a dynastic succession to his late father, Heydar, a Politburo member and senior KGB officer in the Soviet period.
Azerbaijan has stubbornly resisted any impulses to implement democratic reform, and with its vast energy wealth, few in the West are racing to apply pressure.
Aliyev rejects suggestions that media freedoms are limited in his mainly Muslim nation of 9 million people wedged between Iran and Russia.
Evidence presented by Khalid Aqaliyev, program coordinator at Azerbaijan's Media Rights Institute, suggests otherwise. Continued...