Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Azeri opposition journalist’s saga continues: he fled to Paris but promises to return

Azeri opposition journalist Agil Khalil’s saga continues. EurasiaNet reports that after several unsuccessful attempts, he eventually fled to France on 24 July to meet leading international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. No particular reasons of his departure were specified, although it was apparently connected with the recent attacks. He, nevertheless, pledges to return to Azerbaijan.

Khalil’s case came into international spotlight when few months ago he got attacked and stabbed for allegedly his investigation into corruption in land deals in Baku.

Prosecutors never investigated Khalil's beating, but on July 15 a man presented as the reporter's alleged former lover was sentenced to a year-and-a-half prison term for the stabbing. [For details, see the Eurasia Insight archive.] Local and international watchdog groups believe that the charge was aimed at discrediting Khalil in Azerbaijan's homophobic society. […]

"Even though I was persecuted in my country, even though I was a target for pressure, even though they did not punish the people who stabbed and beat me, even though it is not safe for me to be in Azerbaijan, I will not stay here," he said. "I miss my country and I will go back when I finish my business here."

However, his attempt to fly to Paris was marred by a scandalous incident. Witnesses report on a conflict between police and (airport) border guards as to whether allow the opposition journalist to leave the country. Reports say that while border staff was trying to prevent his travel under various ‘formal’ grounds, police disagreed. These reports were unsurprisingly denied by official representatives.

Speaking from Paris, Khalil said that on July 22 he had also tried to fly out of Baku for France, but had failed. "They kept me at the border for half an hour. Then they said 'You are on the list of wanted people,' and showed me some document. I could not convince them that there is something wrong with this information," Khalil said in a phone interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Khalil says that interior ministry bodyguards accompanying him blocked airport border guards from searching his belongings and arresting him. Police officers later arrived on the scene. "The border officers did not show the police officers the document about me being on a wanted list," he recounted. "The border officers and the [police] argued a little bit and then they allowed me to go home."

Intervention by United States and French embassy officials at last solved the problem two days later, Khalil said. "After this, the border service apologized. They said 'Now you can leave the country..."

Khalil, who has been shortlisted for an award from human rights watchdog Amnesty International, says that he does not plan to stay in France, however. […]

Local newspapers have speculated that the tussle over Khalil's departure indicates a conflict between law enforcement agencies on treatment of the media. […]

Khalil had earlier attempted to leave Azerbaijan by train, but was stopped at the border. Officials said that the reporter could not leave the country while the investigation into his stabbing was ongoing. Khalil's attorney, Elchin Sadigov, has countered that the law does not provide any basis for stopping crime victims from leaving Azerbaijan.


Ani said...

I've discovered a new blog about Azerbaijan, written by an American staying there, and I wrote a little article on khosq.com about it ("Cognitive Dissonance is Uncomfortable"). Pretty sure that the journalist referred to in the post I quoted is this man. Blog is: http://poliscimedia.blogspot.com/

Well worth perusing!

artmika said...

Thanks for the link, Ani, interesting new blog on Azerbaijan, will keep an eye from now on. He did not explicitly mention Khalil, but perhaps he was referring to him.

I like your round-up of the relevant points from his blog on Khosq:

“Cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable”

Very relevant, indeed.