Head editor of opposition news source bastainfo.com Mustafa Hajibeyli agreed to speak to Meydan TV for an exclusive interview.
You are often called in to the police for questioning. Recently you were called into the General Prosecutor’s office. What makes you so curious a persona for the police of our country?
It all has to do with my activities at Bastainfo.com, which I manage. In April they called me into the police under the pretense of an investigation into a martyr who died in combat 25 years ago. In May they called me in to talk about some articles that we had published on the site. These articles touched on issues concerning the army, missions of the special services and the discovery of a spy network within the ranks of the Ministry of Defense. Deputy Prosecutor Rustam Usubov took me aside then and gave me an “official warning”.
During the last summons I received, back in June, I had to listen to complaints about articles concerning the kidnapping and arrest of journalist Afgan Mukhtarli. Usuob told me openly that this would be the last warning, and that afterwards they would take serious measures.
As a whole, the authorities want to shut the mouths of the independent press. The Prosecutor fulfills the role of censor simultaneously. There are only several publications left in Azerbaijan that put out information that the authorities would rather not have shared. It’s not every site that is willing to publish investigations into corruption of the governing elite. . . or information about torture in detention and prison facilities. Despite the threats and warnings, we continue our work. The leaders of other independent and opposition publications were forced to leave the country. But I’ve remained, still at the center of the target, just within arm’s reach, and that’s why I have to deal with these frequent summons to the police station. Soon I expect these more serious ‘measures’ to be taken.
The case of Afgan Mukhtarli has sent the entire region into agitation. And now, a month after his kidnapping, his case has been connected with the so-called ‘Meydan TV case’. Is there any logic to this whatsoever?
From a judicial point of view, no. Let’s suppose that, as the investigation suggests, Afgan Mukhtarli did violate the state border, assaulted a customs agent and had, at that moment, 10,000 euros on his person. How could this all have possibly anything to do with Meydan TV?
But there’s another sort of logic at play here. The authorities are quickly losing appeal amongst the public. They spend millions on pro-government information and news resources, but society doesn’t put much stock in them. They follow the people’s mood online, and they understand that every arrested so-called opposition activist, journalist or human rights’ defender turns into a hero.
Try as they might, as many monuments as they raise, independent-minded youth put up pictures of Rasulzade on their social-media networks, not Heydar Aliyev.
And here I won’t even talk about the popularity of Qiyas Ibrahimov and Bayram Mammadov, who received 10 years in prison for the graffiti they wrote on the monument to the great ‘leader’ (Heydar Aliyev).
And they’ve lost in the case of Afgan Mukhtarli as well. No one believes the fabricated accusations brought against him. So they’re taking revenge, tightening the screws, trying to further scare society. Meydan TV is one of the most powerful news resources out there that prevents the authorities from manipulating societal opinion and thought. For that reason, the persecution of journalists that cooperate and work with Meydan TV isn’t very surprising at all.
Maybe it’s for that very reason that the summons of journalists to the police have become constant and overwhelming? What can we expect in the future? Will we become a second Turkmenistan or North Korea?
I think the situation will become worse but I don’t think things will get as bad as North Korea. The authorities will drown in their own mess, society here isn’t that weak. Despite the efforts to repress, oppress and manipulate, our civil society hasn’t degraded to the point where it has lost its sense of justice and fairness.
Yes, it’s true that people are afraid to go to large-scale protests of the opposition, but they aren’t afraid to read the opposition’s publications. Take a look: the authorities are blocking sites but people are downloading special programs to get around them (VPNs), they’re installing satellite dishes and they are finding ways to get access to alternative sources of information.
Currently, in news-stands one can find dozens of daily-published newspapers that are under the control of the government. However, according to an investigation led by ‘Turan’, these number no more than 2,000 on average. The opposition sites are visited daily by tens of thousands of visitors, and in politically-active periods, they may even have as many as hundreds of thousands of readers.
Even investigators that question independent journalists have, on occasion, let on to their own sympathies for the independent press. The last time this happened was during the questioning of journalist Isolda Aghayeva. And even the police officer who participated in the ‘appeasement’ of blogger Mehman Huseynov, whispered to him that he was sorry that he wasn’t as worthy a human being as he was [Huseynov].
We will be saved by this same spirit.