I had disturbing news today from my friend Shahbaz Khuduoglu, owner of the Chap Evi Printing House in Baku. He announced this week that his business is in danger of closing after losing its largest client, the Yeni Musavat Newspaper. That newspaper is now taking its business to the Azerbaijan Printing House.
Yeni Musavat is one of the largest opposition newspapers. I don’t know much about the Azerbaijan Printing House, other than it raised its rates for newspaper publishing a year ago. And I know that the general director of the printing company also happens to sit in parliament, an elected member of the president's political party. What does it mean when one of the main opposition papers shifts its account to a business run by a political ally of the president? I'll let you figure that out.
Shahbaz has printed everything from Harry Potter books to dry legal commentaries. He is an independent publisher, and he used to work as an independent journalist. This is not the first obstacle he’s faced. A few months ago, I was in a meeting where we discussed trying to assist Shahbaz with a grant to buy presses to replace the antiques now used by the business. The power distribution company Barmek tried to cut off electricity to Chap Evi four years ago. Simultaneously, the landlord was trying to evict the company.
But the main problem stems from the central government. The Azerbaijan government fears independent thought, and will continue to suppress it wherever possible.
Here’s a little article on the subject written on the web page of the Institute For Reporters Freedom And Safety.