Malahat Nasibova exposes the human rights abuses of the little-known region in her country called Nakhchivan, which she describes as a "testing laboratory" for repressive methods that are later used in other parts of Azerbaijan. She describes the routine silencing of journalists in the region, and the nearly insurmountable obstacles NGOs face when registering with the government. Nasibova calls for outside help, asking foreign companies with economic interests in the region to help her promote democracy. Despite the brave efforts of Nasibova and others, only with more external pressure will the government of Nakhchivan institute major changes. Watch Malahat's presentation in Azeri, her native language, here.

About

Malahat Nasibova is a correspondent for Turan, an independent Azeri information agency, and for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). RFE/RL's mission is to promote democratic values and institutions by reporting the news in countries where free press is banned by the government, or is not fully established. Their journalists provide uncensored news and open debate where there otherwise would not be any. RFE/RL also combats ethnic and religious intolerance, promotes mutual understanding among peoples, provides a model for local media, and fosters ties between the countries of the region and the world's established democracies.

Since 2003, when President Aliyev took power in Azerbaijan, the regime has become increasingly more authoritarian. Political opposition has been threatened and intimidated, and independent media has decreased. Newspapers are forced to limit distribution and radio and television is monopolized by the state. Criticism of the government results in threats, violence and arrests. Journalists who attempt to report on this abuse of power are often imprisoned under false accusations. The situation in Nakhchivan is even worse. Under the rule of Vasif Talibov, all opposition is suppressed and journalists are harassed to the point where few remain in the region.

In spite of this hostile climate, Nasibova has criticized authorities in Nakhchivan for numerous violations. She reports on abuses by police against citizens, kidnappings of members of political opposition, and attacks on journalists. Due to a lack of independent institutions in Nakhchivan, Nasibova has become an ombudsman for the local population to turn to when they want their voices heard. In attempts to silence Nasibova, she has been arrested, brought before the courts, and publicly harassed. Her apartment has been looted, her computer stolen, and her camera destroyed. She has received death threats and has been physically assaulted.

However, Nasibova continues to report and she refuses to leave Nakchivan. In 2002, she established the first independent NGO in Nakhchivan, Democracy and NGO Development Resource Center, and remains its director. The organization pursues many projects including education about sexually transmitted diseases, training election observer groups, monitoring court hearings to ensure transparency, and introducing anti-corruption mechanisms in Nakhchivan universities.

In 2009, Nasibova was awarded the Rafto prize for her work as a courageous and inflexible champion of free speech, and for drawing attention to Azerbaijan, a member of the Council of Europe that increasingly fails to meet its democratic and human rights obligations toward its own citizens. In a statement concerning the award, Nasibova said, “This prize is for human rights, for democracy and for free media… this prize will encourage me to continue to work for these things in my country, and I hope it will encourage others."