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Radio Liberty Azerbaijan bureau reporters allege harassment and corruption by director, garner support from EU Federation of Journalists

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The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has submitted a formal complaint to the Council of Europe against the leadership of Azadliq Radiosu, the Azerbaijani branch of Radio Liberty based in Prague. As per the complaint, former employees have made allegations of harassment and threats against the station’s management. They claim that the editorial team is poorly managed, leading to an unhealthy work environment that negatively impacts the quality of their work and raises concerns about editorial independence. The primary responsibility for these issues is attributed to Azadliq Radiosu editor-in-chief Ilkin Mammadov.

Within the past two years, four employees have been reportedly terminated from Azadliq Radiosu, while three others chose to resign voluntarily. The dismissed journalists sent letters to the president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) requesting an investigation, but they received no response.

Ricardo Guttierez, the EFJ's General Secretary, then penned a letter to Amanda Bennett, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Media (USAGM), on August 23 (the contents of which were made available to The Insider). In his message, he pointed out the gravity of the situation and expressed surprise at the lack of any response to the letters from the former Azadliq Radiosu employees. “I hope you will take the necessary steps to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations made by the fired journalists,” Guttierez wrote.

Ilkin Mammadov
Ilkin Mammadov

The most recent journalist to be dismissed from Azadliq Radiosu was Turkhan Karimov, who had been with the organization since 2015. Prior to relocating to Prague, he had worked in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku and was renowned for his investigative reporting on corruption, including within the local police force. Karimov informed The Insider that he had been terminated without prior notice, which constitutes a violation of Czech labor laws.

“Instead of me, Mammadov hired two journalists in Baku who worked for the TV channels of President Ilham Aliyev's wife Mehriban Aliyeva. I wrote a letter to RFE/RL president Jeff Gedmin asking him to investigate the situation at the Azerbaijani service, but received no response.”

Blankspot, an independent European platform for journalists, has reported that Turkhan Karimov, who was terminated from his position, was replaced by Mammadsharif Alakhbarov, an individual with connections to Azerbaijan’s authoritarian government. Alakhbarov has been actively involved in the pro-government Azerbaijani media for the past 15 years, including the TV channel CVC, and notably played a role in the production of propaganda films that celebrated the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and praised President Ilham Aliyev. Alakhbarov consistently promotes the dictatorial regime on his personal social media accounts.

In the midst of these developments, Chingiz Sultansoy, a former Azadliq Radiosu employee, posted on his Facebook page on August 27, saying that Radio Liberty's management had responded to the letter from the terminated journalists. However, he likened the response to the types of replies typically issued by the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry in cases involving complaints against police officers, implying that it was dismissive and unsatisfactory.

Sultansoy wrote: “We checked, everything is fine, the applicant hit his head against the wall himself.”

The journalist alleges that Ilkin Mammadov persistently subjects the staff to harassment, employs offensive language, derides and belittles them. The editorial team endures ongoing stress, and “women cry, [while] men abuse alcohol and cigarettes,” Sultansoy says. The team endures this mistreatment due to the high unemployment rate in Azerbaijan and the difficulty of finding another place of work. Sultansoy claims that financial exploitation has also occurred at Azadliq Radiosu.

Ravan Seyfulla, another former employee, has disclosed that Mammadov, under the pretext of security measures, unlawfully took control of the bank account where reporters' earnings were deposited in Baku, and added that funds had reportedly gone missing from the account. Seyfulla contends that when he spoke up about the situation, he received fewer assignments and saw a significant reduction in his piecework-based salary. The radio station then terminated Seyfulla's contract without providing prior notification.

According to the journalists dismissed from Azadliq Radiosu, the management of the radio station forced freelance reporters working in Baku to rent their own working equipment. Their salaries could also be cut if they were detained by police on duty, which regularly happens to journalists in Azerbaijan. Additionally, they could also see their fees cut without any explanation whatsoever.

The 2023 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders ranks Azerbaijan 152nd out of 180 countries.

In response to The Insider's inquiry, an RFE/RL spokesperson said that the inspection found no violations in Azadliq Radiosu’s editorial policy: “Following the allegations against the Azerbaijani service, RFE/RL's ombudsman conducted a comprehensive review of its materials and concluded that they remain accurate, independent and responsible. RFE/RL does not comment on individual personnel decisions. We have contacted the European Federation of Journalists to discuss their concerns.”

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