This year’s Rafto Prize, seen by many as a prelude to the Nobel Peace Prize, was awarded to journalist and human rights activist Malahat Nasibova. She’s been working for years in a dictatorial province of Azerbaijan to promote human rights and freedom of expression.
The Bergen-based Rafto Foundation, which champions human rights, said it awarded the annual prize to Nasibova because of her “courageous and unwavering struggle for a free and independent press.”
The foundation also said that Norway had a “special responsibility” to turn the spotlight on abuses in Azerbaijan because of Norwegian companies’ involvement in the country’s oil industry there.
Nasibova, age 40, has been attacked several times, also physically, for her journalistic work. She’s been a correspondent for Radio Free Europe and written for news bureau Turan in Nakhchivan, a land-locked part of Azerbaijan located between Iran, Turkey and Armenia.
Nakhchivan is physically separated from the rest of Azerbaijan, and the Rafto Foundation noted that while life is tough for a journalist in Azerbaijan, it’s much worse in Nakhchivan. Azerbaijan has been ruled for decades by the Alijev family while a relative of the Alijevs, Vasif Talibov, runs Nakhchivan. Oslo newspaper Aftenposten reported that he and the Alijevs prove that Soviet-style rule continues to exist.
The Rafto Foundation noted that Nasibova has risked her own safety numerous times by reporting on the Nackchivan government’s abuse of power, human rights violations and corruption. She reports regularly on police violations against ordinary citizens, kidnappings of members of the opposition and attacks on journalists.She also is the leader of a human rights organization, Democracy and NGO’s Development Resource Center, in Nakhchivan, which has been attacked itself.
The foundation noted that Azerbaijan has become increasingly authoritarian in recent years under the presidency of Ilham Aliyev, who took over from his father in 2003. The opposition and independent media have been under constant pressure, with journalists risking imprisonment if they write about corruption and abuse of power.
Nasibova is among the few independent journalists left in Nakhchivan, and the Rafto Foundation considers her work “profoundly important.” She draws attention, the jury said, “to the general lawlessness and the absence of public security in Nakhchivan.” She has been arrested, had her home ransacked and received death threats. Still, she refuses to leave Nakhchivan.
The Rafto Foundation said that by awarding the prize to Malahat Nasibova it wanted “to give prominence to an inflexible champion of free speech and a free press,” while also drawing attention to a member of the Council of Europe (Azerbaijan) that “increasingly fails to meet its democratic and human rights obligations towards its own citizens and the international society.”
The Rafto Prize for Human Rights commemorates Thorolf Rafto, a professor of economic history in Bergen who actively promoted human rights, especially in Eastern Europe. Several winners over the years have gone on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, including Shirin Ebadi of Iran, Kim Dae-jung of South Korea and Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma.