Journalists covering a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, on Wednesday said police beat them and took their equipment while dispersing a crowd that had gathered to demand the release of an Azerbaijani businessman arrested in Turkey.
At least 10 journalists were harassed by the police, freelance journalist Tabriz Mirzoyev told the Turan Information Agency.
Radio Azadlig (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Azerbaijani Service) journalist Ramin Deko said he was left with hand and leg injuries and bruises on his face after police beat him.
“There were quiet at the beginning, but then they received an order and they started to attack and beat journalists,” Deko said. “They took my phone away and threw me on the asphalt. They pushed me down and started to kick me and beat me.”
Footage showed police pushing, kicking, and forcibly removing journalists from the protest.
Approximately 30 people had gathered outside the embassy to protest the recent arrest of Mubariz Mansimov Gurbanoglu, the founder of the Istanbul sea freight company Palmali.
Reuters reported that a Turkish court ordered his arrest over alleged ties to the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of being behind an attempted 2016 coup.
Elshad Hajiyev from the Baku City Police press service told VOA that police are investigating and that he would comment “after the investigation.”
Journalists in Azerbaijani have previously been beaten or harassed while covering protests.
In February, the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that at least 18 journalists were “obstructed and sometimes physically attacked” while covering protests and allegations of fraud in Azerbaijan’s snap parliamentary elections.
RSF reported that journalists were arrested and beaten when authorities broke up sit-in protests by opposition candidates outside of the Central Election Committee after the vote, and that at least eight journalists were attacked or blocked from covering events on the day of the election.
Attacks on journalists were among the human rights issues cited by the U.S. State Department in its annual report on human rights in Azerbaijan. As well as restrictions on the press and internet, the report highlight issues “including violence against journalists, harassment and incarceration of journalists on questionable charges.”
The incident outside the Turkish Embassy came a day after Azerbaijan released investigative journalist Afghan Mukhtarli early from a six-year prison sentence and allowed him to leave for Germany, where he was reunited with his wife and daughter.
The international community, including Harlem Desir, the OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Parliamentary Assemble of the Council of Europe (PACE) welcomed his release.
In a statement, Gulnoza Said, the head of Europe and Central Asia Program at the press freedom organization Committee to Protect Journalists, called on the Azerbaijani authorities to release all remaining journalists from jail and allow them to report freely and safely.
The PACE rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan also called on authorities to fulfill their obligations by “releasing all other political prisoners and resolving the underlying systemic problems.
Rights groups have documented the arrests of dozens of journalists in Azerbaijan, often under politically motivated charges which usually range from “tax evasion” to “illegal entrepreneurship.”
At least six journalists were in jail for their work in Azerbaijan at the time of CPJ’s annual prison census, and the country ranks 166 out of 180 countries in the RSF World Press Freedom Index.
RFE/RL and VOA are U.S. taxpayer-funded independent news agencies. This story originated in VOA's Azerbaijani Service.