Submission to European Court: Azerbaijan imposing travel restrictions upon journalists violates Article 10 ECHR

ARTICLE 19 has filed a third-party intervention submission before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case Ganbarova and Others v Azerbaijan.

The case concerns the imposition of travel restrictions upon the applicants, each of whom works professionally in the media in Azerbaijan. The effect of those travel restriction was that the applicants were not permitted to travel outside the country.

The first three applicants collaborate with Meydan TV, a non-profit media organization founded in 2013 by dissident blogger and former political prisoner Emin Milli, which gained prominence for its reports and online broadcasts on corruption, human rights and other issues in Azerbaijan. The fourth applicant is a journalist for the Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which, as we report in our submission, has been affected by a restrictive order of the Azerbaijani authorities in December 2014. On different dates in 2015 and 2016 the applicants learned that restrictions upon their right to leave Azerbaijan were imposed and that they were no longer allowed to leave the country. The documents in the case files report that the restrictions in respect of the first three applicants were imposed by investigation authorities in the absence of any judicial decision, while the restriction in respect of the fourth applicant was made following her criminal conditional conviction with a probation period of five years by a decision of the Azerbaijani Supreme Court.

In our intervention, ARTICLE 19 argues:

  • Article 10 of the Convention and comparable international legal standards are engaged whenever journalists or persons involved in public advocacy (such as human rights defenders, political activists and others who express dissent) have their freedom of movement restricted by a State, since the “chilling effect” of such measures is plain. We urge the Court to use the opportunity afforded by these applications to acknowledge that the imposition of a travel ban or measures of equivalent effect on journalists or other dissenting voices will always amount to a prima facie violation of Article 10 of the Convention, whether read in conjunction with Article 2 of the Fourth Protocol or on a standalone basis. In particular we argue that, as a matter of well-established case-law of the ECtHR, Article 10 “applies not only to the content of information but also to the means of transmission or reception, since any restriction on the means necessarily interferes with the right to receive and impart information.” In our view, the case is not qualitatively different from the cases Piermont v France and Cox v Turkey, concerning the restriction of the freedom of movement, respectively, of a French politician (and MEP) and of an American citizen who had lectured at a university in Turkey, and where the ECtHR found a violation of Article 10. Accordingly, Article 10 will be engaged in any situation where state action serves to create a practical barrier between a journalist’s transmission and the would-be receiving audience.
  • In assessing whether there has been a violation of Article 18 of the Convention (“Limitation on use of restrictions of rights”), the Court should establish whether the State has acted for an unlawful predominant purpose in restricting a Convention right, taking account of the wider background of any application. In line with the Grand Chamber’s decision in the case Merabishvili v Georgia, we argue that this assessment is due notwithstanding the historic presumption of good faith on the part of States when providing reasons for the restriction. We conclude that Azerbaijani authorities have engaged, and continue to engage, in systemic repression of freedom of expression, including through the intimidation, targeting, and persecution of journalists and other voices critical of the government. To that aim, we offer a review of a number of measures imposing the forcible closure of media outlets in Azerbaijan, and of official documents which remark upon the increasingly harsh restrictions on the media and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, among which the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 11 October 2017 expressing its continuing “concern… about the reported prosecution and detention of leaders of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, bloggers and lawyers, allegedly in retaliation for their work”.

Read the submission