Azerbaijani Journalist Under Pressure

IWPR contributor believes attack on family members was retribution for his work as reporter.
 Armed men have attacked the home of award-winning Azerbaijani journalist and IWPR contributor Idrak Abbasov, in what he believes is retaliation for his work in the media.

Several of Abbasov’s relatives including his father, mother and brother were taken to hospital following the attack on their house in Sulutepe, a village just outside the capital Baku.

Aside from his reporting for IWPR, Abbasov is a founding member of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, and a journalist for the local paper Zerkalo.

He told IWPR what happened when the assailants, who were carrying firearms, turned up at the house.

“A group of people wearing black uniforms burst into the yard and started beating my parents and other family member. Simultaneously, an earthmover began to destroy the wall,” he said.

Abbasov’s father Telman, who has diabetes, is in a clinical hospital in Baku and his mother Naima and brother Adalat are in intensive care in the city’s central hospital, both with head injuries.

Two other brothers, Vagif and Raman, were accused of assaulting a doctor, although a video of the incident shows a hospital security guard attacking them.

The incident involving his two brothers occurred at the central hospital.

“Because doctors weren’t attending to the victims, two of my brothers made a scene and were then pressured by hospital security staff,” Abbasov said. “The guards detained them and handed them over to the police. My brothers were taken to a police station.”

Officials at the central hospital refused to comment on Abassov’s allegations, saying the head doctor was at a meeting at the health ministry and they could not comment without his permission.

Abbasov said his family’s house was attacked without warning. The assailants told them their home stood on land belonging to SOCAR, the state oil company, and was going to be demolished.

“Even if that is the case, why has the house been able to stand here for the last 25 years?” Abbasov said. “Yes, we are missing the relevant documents for it, but they could at least have warned us.”

Abbasov pointed out that neighbours, whose homes stood on the same area of land, did not receive a visit.

He says the incident was followed by further cases of harassment – his car was followed on September 10, and three days later he was summoned to the police station where Vagif and Raman Abbasov were being held.

Police said the hospital security guards wanted to press charges against the two.

When IWPR contacted the central hospital, a spokesman said the institution had not filed a complaint, and he did not know who had.

A security guards who asked not to be named said merely that “the brothers made a lot of noise and tried to break down the door, so we enforced order. There are other patients in the hospital, too”.

The police station has a document purporting to be a statement by a doctor confirming that the guards were assaulted. IWPR has been unable to find the doctor named on the document,

This correspondent has watched the video recording showing the incident, and it clearly shows that the Abbasov brothers were the targets of an attack, rather than starting it.

The backdrop to the attack on the Abbasovs’ house is a land claim involving the oil industry.

Mehman Aliyev, director of the Turan news agency and an oil industry expert, said Binegedi district, where Abbasov’s village is located, is the site of onshore oil reserves subject to a production-sharing contract between SOCAR and Global Energy Azerbaijan Ltd. A deadline set by SOCAR for increasing production in Binegedi expired in August. Global Energy Azerbaijan has said the field has not been brought to its full potential because illegally-built housing stands in the way.

Global Energy Azerbaijan’s Baku office refused to comment, but SOCAR spokesman Nizameddin Guliyev said land in Binegedi district had been transferred by an act of parliament, and all illegal houses located there would have to be removed.

SOCAR has won over 2,000 court cases against homeowners in land disputes across Azerbaijan, and another 2,000 are still being considered. Owner-occupiers have won only a handful of cases.

The Abbasov family home, however, is not the subject of any court ruling.

“I don’t understand why they are removing our house,” Idrak Abbasov said. “All the neighbouring houses are in exactly the same [legal] position. The only explanation I can give is that it’s pressure on me because of my professional activities,”

Seymur Kazimov is project officer at the Azerbaijan Media Centre.