Travel bans: a quiet repression

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Posted on: 
3 Oct 2018

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, Alsace, France. Image attribution: Wikicommons, Zairon

Azeri journalist Kamran Mahmudov is taking his country to the European Court of Human Rights over unexplained travel restrictions which have prevented him from leaving Azerbaijan. 

Travel bans of this kind have been described as "a kind of quiet repression" by David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Mr Kaye has stated that travel bans are used by governments “not merely to punish the banned but to deny the spread of information about the state of repression and corruption in their home countries.”

Mr Mahmudov lives in Baku, the country’s capital, and has been working as a journalist since 1998. On 22 June 2017 he attempted to go to the Republic of Georgia. However, at the border crossing, instead of being permitted to leave Azerbaijan as he expected, Mr Mahmudov was told his name was on a list of people prohibited from leaving the country. He was told the list had been issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), but was not told why his name was on it or given any further explanation. 

He was detained by Azeri State Border Service officers before being transferred into police custody. Mr Mahmudov was held for seven hours and prevented from seeing his lawyer, Mr Javid Rzazadeh, who was asked to leave the police station. Kamran Mahmudov was eventually released without charge. 

When Mr Mahmudov challenged his travel ban in the domestic courts, MIA denied that a travel ban had been imposed. The Azeri courts held that Mr Mahmudov had not proven that a travel ban had been imposed. His application to the European Court of Human Rights argues that Mr Mahmudov’s right to liberty, right to freedom of expression and freedom of movement were violated by his treatment by the Azeri authorities. 

Mr Mahmudov is a journalist with extensive experience and professional standing. He has worked as a reporter for Azad Azerbaijan TV and the Baku bureau of Azadlig Radio, as a newscaster with ANS TV and ANS GM Radio, and a senior editor at ANS GM Radio. Before the station was closed down by the Azeri authorities, he also worked for Radio Liberty with the award-winning journalist Khadija Ismayilova. Ms Ismayilova’s investigative reporting – often focusing on corruption – has been the subject of a number of awards internationally, but domestically she has been the subject of numerous arrests and has been imprisoned for charges which have been criticised as fabricated.   

Mr Mahmudov is represented by Can Yeginsu and Anthony Jones of 4 New Square, Khaled Aghaliyev, and the Media Legal Defence Initiative. 

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