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The Special Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, issued the following statement today:

Geneva, 4 May: On 27 April 2007, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on the promotion and the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, completed a visit to Azerbaijan, undertaken at the invitation of the Government.
During the mission, the Special Rapporteur met with the President of Azerbaijan, H.E. Ilham Aliyev, with senior State and Government officials, as well as representatives of the media, trade unions and members of the civil society. He also held an exchange of views with members of the diplomatic corps and senior officials of international organizations.
Azerbaijan has always been at the crossroad of different cultures and ethnic groups. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the ensuing independence have given it a new impetus. The country is witnessing a quest to establish and consolidate democratic structures , together with an aspiration for economic and social growth .
While the Government and State institutions have expressed a willingness to conduct a more open dialogue with media representatives and international organizations, the media environment is marked by various deficiencies: according to information gathered by the Special Rapporteur, the present legislation concerning defamation offences in not in line with the increasing trend towards decriminalization of related offences, and courts tend to be particularly severe in judging media professionals. Journalists and other media professionals have sometimes been victims of repression, including violence and persecution by some law enforcement officials. Furthermore, there is a need for upgrading and devoting adequate resources to develop the professional capacities and job ethics of media representatives, combined with an effort to create favorable economic conditions in which the rights to freedom of expression and information can be fully enjoyed.
Nonetheless, the Special Rapporteur has been encouraged by his meetings with Government and State representatives and hopes that immediate measures will be taken to review national policies and several courts decisions, which have created a widespread sense of fear and censorship among journalists thus diminishing their editorial freedom.
Finally, The Special Rapporteur wishes to extend his appreciation to the United Nations country office in Azerbaijan, and to thank all national and international personalities, institutions, members of the media and of the civil society, with whom he met for their valuable contribution to his visit.
The Special Rapporteur will prepare a report on the mission, which will be issued as a Human Rights Council document and will also present orally his findings to the Council.

For further information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please consult the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/opinion/index.htm