NEW YORK—Two prominent press watchdog groups,the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, Thursday criticized Azerbaijan for denying entry to Baku last week to a freelance photojournalist for Bloomberg Markets Magazine due to her Armenian ethnicity.
Last week Asbarez reported that Azeri authorities denied Diana Markosian, a photojournalist who holds both Russian and US citizernship, entry to Azerbaijan and cited her ethnicity as a reason.
“It is deeply disturbing that Azerbaijani authorities would cite the ethnic background of a foreign reporter as a reason for barring her entry to the country,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Diana Markosian should be allowed to work in Azerbaijan as freely as any other journalist.”
According to press reports and CPJ interviews, on June 27, border guards at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku detained Markosian on arrival from the Latvian capital, Riga, then expelled her back to Riga the next day. Markosian told CPJ that the border guards took her passport, saying that she had an Armenian last name and that they “needed to clarify something.” Then they put her in the airport’s transit zone where she spent 16 hours until the U.S. Embassy in Baku helped her to buy a ticket for the next return flight to Riga.
According to a report published on the CPJ Web site, Markosian told CPJ that before her travel to Baku she and the newsroom told the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry about her visit, and were assured there would not be any complications. The CPJ reported that the Baku-based APA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Elkhan Polukhov as saying the government had sent a letter to Bloomberg management saying that Azerbaijan is at war with Armenia and because of this “there will be problems to provide security for Armenian Diana Markosian.” Authorities asked Bloomberg to send another photographer instead of Markosian, Polukhov told APA. There have been no reports of other ethnic Armenians being denied entry to Azerbaijan.
Ty Trippet, a spokesman for Bloomberg LP, told CPJ that the company had not put out any statements on the case.
Reporters Without Borders, on the other hand, blamed the Nagorno-Karbaakh conflict as the impetus for Baku’s denial and also cited Yerevan’s denial of a Lithuanian news crew from entering Armenia earlier this year.
“Reporters Without Borders is very concerned that both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been denying entry to foreign journalists amid an increase in tension between the two countries over Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory within Azerbaijan that has a mostly Armenian population. The media have become a hostage to this conflict,” said a statement from the group.
“We urge the Armenian and Azerbaijan authorities to leave the media out of their diplomatic dispute,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Journalists must be free to do their work, which involves covering matters of general interest, including ones as sensitive as the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. They must be able to able to move about without having to obtain permission from either side. Compiling blacklists of journalists for exclusion is both unacceptable and ineffective.”
Reporters Without Borders also cited Markosian’s case, but reported on a more recent denial by Azerbaijan of a journalist’s enty.
“In the latest caseYuri Snegirev, the correspondent of the Russian daily Izvestiya, was banned from entering Azerbaijan on 1 July as a result of two articles about Nagorno-Karabakh that were published on 29 and 30 June. The ban was announced by foreign ministry spokesman Elkhan Polukhov, who accused Snegirev of just reflecting the Armenian viewpoint. The ministry also complained that he had used the Armenian names for the cities of Stepanakert and Shushi (Khankendi and Shusha in Azeri) although they are the names usually used in Russian,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Sergei Buntman, the deputy chief editor of the Moscow-based independent radio station Ekho Moskvy, was banned from visiting Azerbaijan on 23 May. Paralleling his later action with Snegirev, Polukhov announced the ban the day after Ekho Moskvy broadcast interviews conducted by Buntman with the leaders of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic,” continued the Reporters Without Borders.
“Like Snegirev, Buntman had also upset the Azerbaijani authorities by travelling to Nagorno-Karabakh without requesting their permission. The region is nonetheless a de facto independent state and impartial coverage of the issue necessitates a visit,” added Reporters Without Borders.
“Nagorno-Karabakh is not the only story that has resulted in foreign journalists being denied entry or deported from Azerbaijan. A TV crew from Sweden’s First National TV was arrested and escorted to the airport while trying to cover an opposition demonstration on 17 April,” explained the group in its statement.
“A few days later, a leading New York Times reporter was told he would not get a visa if did not submit the articles he had written about Azerbaijan and explain why there was so much “negative information” about Azerbaijan in the United States. ‘This is all rather stupid and ridiculous,’ the journalist told Reporters Without Borders. ‘In the 21st century, you can be in Australia and interview someone living in London, Moscow or Baku (…) All they will achieve this way is that our stories will not longer include their views or comments because they refuse to talk to us,’” the report added.