Radio Free Europe Is Independent Media — Not State Propaganda | Letter to the Editor

Posted September 9, 2014 at 3:35pm

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Baku bureau on Aug. 27 reported that “Yeni Azerbaijan,” the mouthpiece of the country’s ruling party, referred to the Aug. 26 column by Maayan Jaffe, “Congress Should Stop Using Taxpayer Money to Fund Radio Free Europe’s Attacks on Our Allies” in an article declaring “it is time to stop” Khadija Ismayilova and “people like her” who are “pro-Armenian.” Ms. Ismayilova, an independent journalist who has been a target of Azeri authorities for years as a result of her investigative reports on high-level corruption for RFE/RL, is currently under investigation for “espionage” after meeting with Senate staffers in Baku in February 2014. Allegations that she has Armenian roots also figure prominently in the vilification campaign against her. Ms. Jaffe’s call for more “pressure” and less journalism seems to have emboldened the editors of “Yeni Azerbaijan” to escalate attacks against those it deems disloyal.

Azerbaijan’s track record on basic rights and freedoms is well-documented by Freedom House, whose Freedom of the Press Index offers a different appraisal from the author’s on Azerbaijan’s commitment to “objective news, analysis and discussion of domestic and regional issues” and its priority of “building an inclusive, tolerant society.” The 2014 index ranks Azerbaijan 183 among 197 countries surveyed, and designates the country “not free.”

Ms. Jaffe accuses RFE/RL of bias, but her piece omits mention of the arrest on charges of treason in July of Leyla Yunus, the country’s most prominent human rights activist; the arrest of her husband; and the arrests of several high-profile, independent lawyers and journalists. An open letter from Ms. Yunus to her husband, penned in the absence of any other means to communicate with him, was published by “The Washington Post” on Aug. 26. Earlier in August, a team of special rapporteurs with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights publicly accused Azeri authorities of making such arrests “on the basis of trumped-up charges,” and said the country’s “criminalization of rights activists must stop.” Just this week, Council of Europe human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks called the situation “totally unacceptable” and said it “flies in the face of the human rights obligations undertaken by Azerbaijan” when it joined the 47-nation European human rights body.

To Ms. Jaffe’s concern that Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., “pay attention to RFE/RL,” we would assure her that the senator gave an interview to RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service in Baku in June in which he addressed and affirmed RFE/RL’s role in combatting propaganda.

RFE/RL believes that the Azeri people need, and seek out, independent, informed, accurate, and uncensored media so they may draw their own conclusions and make informed decisions about their country and their future. Ms. Jaffe’s call for a return to propaganda may be what the Azeri authorities want, but it would demean Americans’ commitment to freedom of speech — one of U.S. taxpayers’ most cherished accomplishments, and one of the United States’ most powerful exports.

Nenad Pejic, editor in chief of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Inc. Prague, Czech Republic