On 14 June, Qasid, an Azerbaijan’s state-owned media distributor warned that it will shut down the 2014 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Journalism Award-winning newspaper Azadliq by 27 June if it doesn’t pay an outstanding debt of approximately $12,000 it allegedly owes, Radio Free Europe reported.
Rahim Haciyev, acting editor-in-chief of Azadliq, told Index why it’s important to keep the paper’s journalists reporting.
Why is it important for Azadliq to continue its mission?
Rahim Haciyev: Azadliq is an independent newspaper that fights for freedom of speech in Azerbaijan. In fact, the main job of the press is to provide readers with objective information. Freedom of speech is under severe pressure from the government. We at the newspaper fight for freedom as well as provide readers with objective information. Our activity is of great importance because we are the only remaining press agency inside Azerbaijan that challenges the government.
Why is the government trying to shut down the paper?
Rahim Haciyev: Azadliq always follows the “golden rule of journalism”, which is to only serve the truth. In a country with wide-scale corruption and sharp limitations to human rights and freedom, it should not be surprising that the only newspaper that publishes articles about all of these issues is under intense pressure. It is common for authoritarian regimes to restrict the freedom of speech and expression in order to silence press outlets which provide citizens with objective information. This is what the Azerbaijani government attempts to do. The newspaper pays great attention to the problem of political prisoners and continues to do so right now. Each issue of the newspaper contains photos of political prisoners that the government would rather people forget.
How many people are still contributing to the paper’s coverage?
Rahim Haciyev: Azadliq, as a daily newspaper, is facing severe financial constraints. Our small staff of 20 journalists are working under the dual threat of government harassment and financial insecurity. We can’t hire more journalists because the state-owned news distributor, Qasid, refuses to pay the paper for sales. Right now it owes us approximately $50,000, but is demanding we pay them $12,000. At the same time, a lot of journalists don’t want to work with us because of the real personal and professional risk of being associated with an opposition newspaper.