Forbidden Stories
Baku Connection

The Baku Connection: Pursuing the Work of Azerbaijan’s Silenced Voices

Coordinated by Forbidden Stories, 40 journalists from 15 media outlets continue the work of their colleagues who were arrested in Azerbaijan. Behind prison walls today, Abzas Media journalists were among the last in the country to investigate the abuses of the powerful Aliyev regime, delving into issues of corruption, pollution, and human rights.

By Forbidden Stories

February 1, 2024

In recent months, Azerbaijan has been rocked by a wave that jeopardized media freedom in the nation. In November 2023, Abzas journalists Ulvi Hasanli, Sevinc Vaqifqizi, and the team’s administrative team member Mahammad Kelakov were arrested by Azerbaijani authorities. Abzas Media is one of the last remaining independent media organizations investigating corruption in the country.

In response to the arrests, Forbidden Stories, in collaboration with the OCCRP and PTM, made a resounding declaration on November 23. And the commitment to continue Abzas’ silenced work was echoed not only by the consortium but also by Abzas itself. Only a few days after, the project united 15 global media organizations and 40 journalists: France 24, RFI, OCCRP, Paper Trail Media, The Guardian, RTS, IRPI, Le Monde, Radio France, Knack, Le Soir, NRC, ZDF, and Der Standard. All the project partners have been working together ever since the arrest of Abzas’ journalists. Our findings are a resolute pursuit of the very work that the authorities sought to silence.

As of today, six members of Abzas Media have been arrested on charges of smuggling foreign currency. Notably, the timing coincided with Abzas’ intention to investigate torture within Azerbaijani prisons, as well as the environmental impact of one of the most powerful gold mines in the country, among other stories.

Back in June 2023, Abzas Media journalists tried to dig deeper into the dirty deeds of gold mining in Western Azerbaijan, and were intimidated and arrested for it. Now, Forbidden Stories and its partners have been able to trace the path of the gold, unveiling its connections to prominent corporations such as Tesla, Apple, and HP.

The project’s findings also shed light on the questionable modus operandi of Azerbaijan when it comes to prison management. Over 23 million euros have flowed from the Council of Europe to Azerbaijan since 2014, purportedly for development programs. Public documents reviewed by Forbidden Stories and its partners reveal the funds were intended for “capacity building of the judicial system,” “training for staff,” “increased oversight of prison conditions,” and “action to improve transparency and prevent corruption.” Yet, the opacity surrounding conditions within Azerbaijani prisons raises serious questions about the actual impact of these funds.

As the Presidential elections loom in Azerbaijan, Abzas Media’s website stands as a testament to the struggle for journalistic freedom, even as its team members face isolation and silence, as Ulvi Hasanli himself wrote recently in a note from his prison cell.

Forbidden Stories and its partners will relentlessly pursue the untold stories that those in power desperately wish to keep hidden.

Hasanli borrowed Einstein’s words to finish his note: “Truth is subtle, but it is not malicious.”

Media partners

 

France 24, RFI, OCCRP, Paper Trail Media, The Guardian, RTS, IRPI, Le Monde, Radio France, Knack, Le Soir, NRC, ZDF, Der Standard.

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