Leading Azerbaijani journalist hospitalized in attack

BAKU: Security personnel from Azerbaijan's state energy company on Wednesday attacked an award-winning investigative journalist, leaving him hospitalized and unable to speak, his family said.

Idrak Abbasov was beaten up while filming a confrontation that erupted while employees of state company SOCAR were demolishing houses in the village of Sulutapa on the outskirts of the capital Baku, his brother told AFP.

"When SOCAR security service people noticed that Idrak was filming, they assaulted him. They seized his camera, knocked him down and started beating him up," his brother Roman Abbasov said.

The journalist is now in hospital and unable to speak, said the brother.

"His condition is serious," said Roman.

Idrak writes for the Zerkalo newspaper and is one of the founding members of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety in the oil-rich ex-Soviet republic, which has often been accused of stifling media rights.

He has regularly reported on the demolition of houses that the authorities say were built illegally on land that SOCAR wants to use in his family's home village of Sulutapa.

Last month he was awarded an international prize for his reporting by campaign group Index on Censorship.

"In Azerbaijan, where I have come from, telling the truth can cost a journalist their life," he said after receiving the award.

Members of Abbasov's family were also injured last year when a group of unidentified black-clad men burst into their house in Sulutapa and partially demolished it with a bulldozer.

The Azerbaijani authorities have consistently rejected accusations that free speech is seriously limited by restrictive legislation, official censorship, punitive prosecutions and assaults on journalists.





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