ECPMF Chairman Challenges Council of Europe on Azerbaijan

Europe’s elected representatives should insist on improvements on human rights and freedom in Azerbaijan before ANY further cooperation or deals, writes ECPMF chairman – and SCOOP founder and coordinator – Henrik Kaufholz in an open letter to politicians in Council of Europe countries.

Azeri journalists are persecuted, and at the same time politicians and other celebrities in Europe receives money from Azerbaijan’s government. The politicians are in a position to demand change, writes mr. Kaufholz.

SCOOP is a founding member of the ECPMF (European Center for Press and Media Freedom).

The full text of the letter:

An open letter from Henrik Kaufholz, ECPMF Chairman, to all parliamentarians in the Council of Europe

Leipzig, September 22, 2017

Dear Member of the Parliamentary Assembly,

Azerbaijan’s human rights record is shameful. Europe’s elected representatives should insist on improvements before ANY further co-operation is proposed or deals are signed with Azerbaijan – by individuals, state-backed companies, nations or European institutions.

Investigative reporters working on the ’Laundromat’ money-laundering scandal have already revealed that at least two elected European politicans were involved in trying to whitewash that shameful record.

At the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom we are working hard to defend the rights of Azerbaijani journalists who – even in exile – are persecuted by Aliyev’s agents.

For example, Afgan Mukhtarli and his family fled to Georgia after his reports alleging government corruption were published, to escape the backlash. Then on May 29, 2017 he was forcibly abducted, beaten and hooded and driven to Baku, where he has been in pre-trial detention for almost four months now. This is extraordinary rendition. Mukhtarli’s wife and young daughter, back in Tblisi, are being followed by persons unknown and fear a similar fate.

They are just two of a long list of critical investigative journalists and human rights defenders who face imprisonment, exile and persecution. Your colleagues at the European Parliament have called on the Azerbaijani government to honour the commitments they have made for closer ties with Europe. (The case of Afgan Mukhtarli and situation of media)

We all know of the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), we all know of the importance of energy security for Europe. But human rights weigh more heavily. As Chairman of the Executive Board of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, an independent co-operative largely financed by the European Commission, I urge you to protest in the strongest possible terms about the many human rights abuses committed in Azerbaijan. We should also oppose the candidacy of Polad Bülbüloğlu for Director-General of UNESCO and agitate to remove the First Lady of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyev from her post as UN Goodwill Ambassador.

The ECPMF and its partners across Europe will be happy to provide you with more case studies and examples of Azerbaijan’s shortcomings in the field of press and media freedom and human rights.
You have the power to question, to challenge and to initiate talks that could trigger change. We need to free the jailed journalists, remove the threat from dissidents who live in fear and help create an Azerbaijan that earns the respect of Europe’s citizens.

Yours sincerely,

Henrik Kaufholz
Chairman of the Executive Board, European Centre for Press and Media

Repairs Start in Syktyvkar After Pressure

The citizens of Syktyvkar can now walk a little more safely in the streets. After the SCOOP-supported investigation of the newssite 7X7 of the deplorable state of the sidewalks, the city council has now started the repair and were recently able to inspect to first streets.

Mayor of Syktyvtar Valery Koshkov inspects the new sidewalks after much needed repairs.

The 7X7 reporter Maksim Polyakov documented in the autumn of 2016 how 14,450 stones on the pavements of central streets were missing or damaged. The problems started only one year after new paving was laid, mainly in 2011 and 2012.

Since the investigation was published, Polyakov has asked the city authorities several times why nothing had been done to remedy the situation. But this summer, the work began, and yesterday, August 16, the mayor could take officials and press for a walk down the first repaired pavements, now covered with asphalt. According to the press release, 14,9 million rubles had been spent to repair the pavements, including traffic signals and special tiles to lead the blind.

A typical view in Syktyvkar – the pavements began deteriorating soon after they were finished.

Reporter Maksim Polyakov says:

“The last three mayors, I’m sure, did not think about the city. Two of them were convicted in court for fraud. For 10 years, nobody took care of the city. But now the situation has changed. Now if journalists write an investigation and ask questions, the mayor and his colleagues do something. Officials have just started repairing sidewalks and paving stones. But they told reporters that they have a repair plan and that they found the money. The only thing I can do is keep asking them about it.”

Read the article in 7X7 (in Russian)

A Window into Europe

During the European refugee crisis asylum seekers some tried to sneak from Russia into Finland.

The reporter Sergey Khoroshavin from Argumenty I  Fakty analyzed all documents, did a lot of interviews  and even tried to follow one of the routes.  It turned out that the frontier of 798 kilometers is not only heavily guarded but also that the Russian security zone has been changed benefitting  a businessman from St. Petersburg – Igor Leytis.

The report was published in Argumenty i Fakty on 29.09.2016.

Read the Russian original

Read the English translation

 

The Cold Radiators of Suoyarvi

The winter can get cold in the small Karelian town Suoyarvi – minus 30. But it can also get cold inside buildings which should be kept warm by the local heating station.

The authorities in 2015 seemed to have found the solution to the cold flats: A new boiler. But it didn’t work efficiently. Prices went up and to add to the problems citizens had to use electrical fans. Almost everybody – including the prosecutor – agree that it’s too cold inside in Suoyarvi. But when it comes to who is responsible for the mess, the reporter Sergei Markelov found only evasive answers.

His report was published 23.11.2016.

Read the Russian original

Read the English translation

 

 

A Loophole in the Rules Creates Mountains of Trash

One day dump trucks started appearing on Petrozavodsk’s Staraya Kukkovka Street next to residential homes. They unloaded soil and building materials as if they were constructing a ski jump in the center of the city. Neighbours complained but nobody intervened.

The reporter Julia Jucherenko made a tv-documentary about this illegal scheme which is very profitable to construction companies. The authorities know about it but claim they lack the authority to stop it.

The documentary was shown 26.10.2016

See the Russian original

Read the English transcript

 

The Dogs Keep Disappearing in Karelia

Since Karelian authorities launched a campaign against stray dogs, Nikolai, Anastasia and many other citizens have been looking for their pets: They have disappeared and nobody seems to know the fate of their beloved animals.

The reporters Alexandra Zaitseva and Maxim Shumeyko from the project “7×7” tried to find out what happened, and soon found themselves in a maze of existing and non-existing companies and offices. It seems that the authorities simply kill hundreds of dogs every year. Needless to add that this is not what the law states.

Their report was published 19.10.2016

Read the original article (Russian)

Read the English translation

Valaam Billions – The Monastery’s Secret

On the Karelian island of Valaam rises the beautiful Patriarchal Men’s Monastery. But reality around it is not quite as beautiful.

The turnover of the business on the island is billions of rubles. The largest state-owned companies are doing business in this area, while the living conditions for local residents become worse. They are squeezed out of the island, of their houses and their jobs. And the main beneficiary of it all is one of the most famous institutions in religious Russia – the Valaam Monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church. Gleb Yarovoy, journalist from the media outlet 7×7 in Petrozavodsk, has gathered information about business on the island.

Read the Russian original

The investigation was also published on Medusa, one of the most popular media in Russian

Read the English translation

 

 

 

The Local Pearl Turned Toxic Green

Lake Valdai is known as “the Pearl” of the Novgorod Province. It streches out with an island with a monastery in it. It is a popular holiday spot for families. But one day the water was a toxic green.

Local authorities took a look, confirmed that something was colouring the water and concluded that it was algae forming because of the hot weather. No analysis were made.

Local journalist A. Galaktionov suspected that there was more to the story and went sailing. Together with Alexander Ivanov, an employee of the Federal Agency for Water Resources Novgorod Sector who is also specialized in the particularities of environmental water, they collected  over 20 tanks of water from around the lake. Their analysis showed a different story.

The investigation was published on Valdai.com on September 30, 2016.

Read the Russian original

Read the English translation

 

No Peaceful Rest for the Dead in Vologda

When a family in Babaeyevsky, 300 km from Vologda, opened the coffin of a deceased family member, an unknown person was inside. “People change after death” was one of the explanations from the Health Department. But this person had then changed so much that a tattoo on his back had disappeared.

Another family experienced finding a man inside the coffin instead of the deceased mother. And many families have competing funeral service companies knocking at the door just minutes after the deceased person’s last breath. These companies are owned and operated after work hours by staff from the Forensics Bureau.

Marina Chernova took a closer look at the unruly situation for the dead in Vologda. Her story waspublished in three parts:

Read the original in Russian: Part 1Part 2Part 3

Read the English translation

 

The Broken Dream of a Neat Street

Walking nine streets of the city of Syktyvkar, the reporter Maksim Polyakov from the web media outlet 7×7, counted 14 450 missing or damaged stones in the pavement.

The paving is quite new. The work started in 2006. Most of the streets were covered in 2010 and 2011. One year later the stones started to break. The companies who made the work are in now bankruptcy or close to it. One source says the reason for the many broken stones could be the heavy machineries used when cleaning the snow. Another suggests the stones were laid before they were dry, and therefore are broken. But nobody knows. The city administration doesn’t have money to repair it all. Maksim Polyakov reports that some of the broken areas now are filled with cement.

The investigation was published at the website “7×7” in November 10, 2016.

Read the original investigation

Read the English translation