The winner of this year's Homo Homini Award is Azerbaijani anti-corruption media outlet, Abzas Media

Published: Mar 6, 2024 Reading time: 4 minutes
The winner of this year's Homo Homini Award is Azerbaijani anti-corruption media outlet, Abzas Media
© Foto: PIN

This year, the Homo Homini Prize, which People in Need has been awarding since 1994, was not given to an individual but to an organisation. This year's prize was awarded to Abzas Media, a collective of Azerbaijani editors, for their investigative reporting focused on exposing corruption.                                   

Founded in 2016, Abzas Media (https://abzas.org) has quickly established itself as one of Azerbaijan's most prominent online media outlets reporting on politics, economics, and human rights. Abzas Media was established in response to a wave of attacks on civil society in 2014. One of those responsible for its creation is co-founder Ulvi Hasanli, a human rights defender and journalist who has served as the company's director since its inception.

Abzaz's primary objective has always been to investigate corruption at the highest levels. Shortly after its launch, the outlet published articles on corruption cases in government institutions, including the personal affairs of the president's family. Subsequently, its website has been repeatedly cyber-attacked, and its journalists harassed.

Reprisals against the editors

The most vigorous crackdown against Abzaz came in November 2023, when Ulvi Hasanli, his deputy Mahammad Kekalov, and editor-in-chief Sevinj Vagifqizi were arrested. Nargiz Absalamova was also arrested in December 2023, followed by Elnara Gasimova in January 2024. They were all placed in pre-trial detention and charged with criminal offences, specifically "conspiracy to bring money into the country illegally". Police claim to have seized more than €40,000 from the Abzas Media office and detained Hasanli, Kekalov and Vagifqizi for four months, Absalamova for three months, and Gasimova for two months and 17 days. On 24 February, Nargizy Absalamova's pre-trial detention was extended for another three months until 29 May 2024.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Abzas Media claimed Hasanli's arrest and the raids were part of President Ilham Aliyev's pressure on the outlet in response to "a series of investigations into claims of corruption against the president and his appointed officials."

In addition to these five, well-known investigative journalist Hafiz Babali was detained by the police and taken into custody on 13 December 2024. Babali has contributed several investigative reports to Abzaz on high-level corruption in construction and development projects in newly acquired territories in Nagorno-Karabakh. He spent three months in pre-trial detention.

Method of collective punishment

The punishments affected not only the arrested journalists but their family members as well. Authorities froze the bank accounts and assets of Ulvi Hasanli, editor-in-chief Sevinje Vagifqizi, and journalists Nargiza Absalam and Hafiz Babali, as well as those of their relatives who police questioned as part of their criminal proceedings. The arrested journalists were not allowed to communicate with their family members, and they were all banned from leaving the territory of Azerbaijan. Although the ban on communication with family members has recently been lifted, other restrictive measures remain.

Abzaz's primary objective has always been to investigate corruption at the highest levels. Shortly after its launch, the outlet published articles on corruption cases in government institutions, including the personal affairs of the president's family.

The repressive environment in Azerbaijan currently makes it impossible to operate fully on the ground. As a result, some Abzas staff must continue their work from abroad, living in exile.

On 1 February 2024, Abzas Media appointed Azerbaijani investigative journalist Leyla Mustafaeva, who currently lives in Germany, as its new editor-in-chief. She became widely known for her journalistic work around the imprisonment of her husband, journalist Afgan Mukhtarli. Mustafayeva was also the Fact Yoxla media monitoring project editor from 2019-2023.

Leyla Mustafajeva came to Prague to receive the Homo Homini award on the organisation's behalf. The event took place on the evening of Tuesday, 19 March 2024, at a gala in Prague Crossroads (St. Anne's Church), which also launched the latest edition of the One World Human Rights Film Festival. A live broadcast of the ceremony was available to watch online on all of People in Need’s online channels.

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For more information contact: Ondřej Lukáš, Media Coordinator of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, ondrej.lukas@clovekvtisni.cz, +420 776 186 529, www.peopleinneed.net.

Autor: Ondřej Lukáš, Media manager PIN

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