Azerbaijan Urged to Loosen Grip on Media Ahead of Polls

BAKU (AFP)–Europe’s top election monitoring body–the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)–voiced concern Friday at the Azeri government’s continued grip on the media in the run-up to parliamentary polls.

Miklos Haraszti–the OSCE’s representative on media freedom issues–told journalists the government was stalling on legislation needed to liberalize the media ahead of the November 6 polls in this former Soviet republic.

"It is worrying that the legal transformation…is not happening before the elections," Haraszti said.

In the lead up to November’s vote Azerbaijan has seen the killing of one of its most prominent opposition journalists–Elmar Huseynov–who was shot in March–as well as a number of libel suits filed against independent journalists by government officials.

The government–meanwhile–is at loggerheads with the non-governmental sector over the ownership and management structure of a planned public television channel that had been expected to cover the election impartially.

Haraszti said he regretted that there were still "very few outlets that would in an authoritative and impartial way provide information to the public."

The vote comes against a backdrop of continued tension since a riot after President Ilham Aliyev’s election to office in 2003 in which two people died.

Opposition groups have threatened to stage protests similar to those seen in Ukraine’s "orange revolution" if the government does not ensure a fair vote.

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