Azerbaijan passes law further restricting media

By Aida Sultanova
Associated Press Writer / February 13, 2010

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BAKU, Azerbaijan—Lawmakers in Azerbaijan have revised the country's media laws to forbid journalists from filming, recording or photographing subjects without their express permission.

The oil-rich state in the southern Caucasus has faced criticism from the West over government pressure on independent journalism. Several prominent newspaper editors are now serving prison sentences on charges that critics call politically motivated.

The amendments to five existing media laws were passed late Friday.

Human rights activists say the move target muckrakers who hold officials to account for their actions, and even some parliamentarians called the measures unconstitutional.

Rights activists urged President Ilham Aliyev to stop the amendments from taking effect and open a public dialogue on the topic.

"That will help to work up new legal norms that would balance the respect of privacy with the need for information on public processes," they said in a statement.

But activists in the strategically located nation of 9 million on the Caspian Sea face an uphill battle.

Eynulla Fatullayev, the jailed founder and editor of the Russian-language weekly Real Azerbaijan and the Azeri-language daily Everyday Azerbaijan, faces a drugs charge for heroin that he says was planted. He is serving an 8 1/2-year sentence after writing an article saying the former Soviet republic could support a U.S. attack on neighboring Iran.