Azerbaijan to Sue French TV for Calling Ilham Aliyev a "Dictator"

Azerbaijan plans to take French public television channel France 2 to court for an investigative program that called the Azerbaijani government a “dictatorship” and its leader, President Ilham Aliyev, a “despot.”

The September 7 program, part of the investigative series Cash Investigation, questioned “what weight” human-rights issues in Azerbaijan can hold for France when multi-billion-dollar contracts in the hydrocarbon-rich state are on the table for powerful French businesses.

"We wondered if, during lunch with the dictator from the Caucasus, one was able to speak of oil and human rights without anyone around the table choking," the voiceover explained.

Nationally broadcast TV programs that question Azerbaijan’s rights record do not arrive at an auspicious time for the country. After hosting the European Games this July and agreeing to take on other mega-sports events, it now is considering whether or not to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The deadline is September 15.

Arguably, Cash Investigation's nearly two-hour-long report would do little to enhance any application Baku chooses to submit. Hinging on a 2014 trip to Baku by French President François Hollande, the story includes footage of police crackdowns on protesters and interviews with recently sentenced human-rights advocate Leyla Yunus and investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova.*

International rights organizations claim that both women — as well as tens of other individuals — were jailed for their criticism of the Aliyev government.

Baku denies it. When asked by Cash Investigation host Elise Lucet if Azerbaijan was truly a "land of tolerance" with political prisoners in its jails, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva advised that Lucet "Just get correct information."

Baku, which, through the Heydar Aliyev Foundation chaired by Aliyeva, long has served as a deep-pocketed donor in France, reportedly sees Lucet and reporter Laurent Richard’s depiction of Azerbaijan as slanderous.

“I don’t know of any dictatorship which sits on the Council of Europe, subject to the European Court of Justice, which has abolished the death penalty and where the Internet is free for all,”  Olivier Pardo, the lawyer cited as representing Azerbaijan in its complaint against France 2, was reported as telling Agence France Presse.

This is not, however, the first time that Azerbaijan has had a confrontation with Cash Investigation. In May 2014, after President Hollande’s state visit to Azerbaijan, series reporters Laurent Richard and Emmanuel Bach were kicked out of the country and had their footage confiscated at the Baku airport.

The series termed the seizure “President Aliyev’s joke," but looks like it decided to try and have the last laugh. A copy of the footage was included in its September 7 broadcast on Azerbaijan.

*Khadija Ismayilova has worked as a reporter for EurasiaNet.org.

**The name of the attorney for Azerbaijan is Olivier Pardo. It was initially named in news reports, including in Tamada Tales, as Olivier Prado.

Azerbaijan to Sue French TV for Calling Ilham Aliyev a "Dictator"

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