Baku airport: Illegal confiscation of documentary footage from Norwegian filmmaker Erling Borgen

May 11, 2010.

To whom it may concern:

Norwegian PEN, The Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the Human Rights House Foundation and Article 19 condemn the illegal confiscation of material and documentary footage from the Norwegian filmmaker Erling Borgen and the cameraman Dag Inge Dahl in Baku Airport on May 6, 2010.

We call upon Azerbaijani authorities to honour Azerbaijan’s international human rights obligations and restore the seized property to the owners.

The filmmakers had been in Azerbaijan to make recordings for a documentary about the imprisoned editor Eynullah Fatullayev when the materials were seized. Among the items missing from the luggage were hard disks, memory sticks containing all of the sources of information, copies of video footage and photos, as well as documents containing background information for the case.

The incident happened at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport at 5.00 a.m when Borgen and Dahl were leaving for Oslo.  After passing security checkpoints they were told that they had too much luggage. As they were surrounded by six men, some security guards, some unidentified men, they were refused taking most of their hand luggage onboard. The carry-on luggage was then checked in and transported without their consent. Borgen and Dahl experienced some of the guards´ behaviour as threatening. When the flight was boarded, Borgen and Dahl were forced by security guards to stay at the gate until the very last minute, while several security guards checked their camera. When the filmmakers arrived in Oslo, the hard disks containing all of the sources of information regarding the Fatullayev case, memory sticks and the video footage were missing from the luggage.

-They also had inspected my mobile phone, Erling Borgen says. – I know, because they had changed the language from my Norwegian to English.

Erling Borgen and Dag Inge Dahl were preparing a film about freedom of expression in Azerbaijan sponsored by the Norwegian Freedom of Expression Foundation, focusing on the case of imprisoned editor Eynulla Fatullayev. Borgen has previous made the documentary film “In the Shadow of Statoil” focusing on the murder of the Monitor journal editor-in-chief, Elmar Huseynov. The two journalists had spent six days in Baku interviewing a variety of reporters, human rights and press freedom defenders, and relatives of the imprisoned journalist. The missing material contained footage from the trial of Eynulla Fatullayev on May 4. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights House Foundation were also present at the trial and witnessed that the presiding judge gave the Norwegian team explicit permission to film parts of the proceedings.

– The incident must be seen as a clear attempt to prevent the documentary film about the Fatullayev case from being produced. The fact that documents and memory cards containing information about the Fatullayev case were missing and the camera itself was not stolen show that the incident cannot be seen as an ordinary robbery case, Maria Dahle, Director of Human Rights House Foundation says.

Erling Borgen is a prominent member of both Norwegian PEN and the Norwegian Journalist Association.

On the International Freedom of Press Day May 3, the Secretary General of Council of Europe, Torbjørn Jagland, especially referred to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights Fatullayev vs Azerbaijan and stated that Azerbaijan as a member state is legally bound to comply with the rulings of the Court.

Referring to General Secretary´s statement, underlining that “freedom of expression is fundamental and something all 47 member states must always defend, with neither compromise nor apology”, the undersigning organisations call upon the Azerbaijani authorities

·    to return all confiscated footage and materials to Erling Borgen and  Dag Inge Dahl,
·    to ensure safety of all those who assisted and gave their testimonies to the Norwegian crew during their visit to Azerbaijan,
·    to conduct an investigation concerning the incident at Heydar Aliyev International Airport and to publish the outcome of the investigation.

We also call on the European Union, OSCE, the Council of Europe, EU member states and Norway to condemn the incident as an attack against the freedom of expression in Azerbaijan and to demand the return of all confiscated materials.


Maria Dahle, Human Rights House Foundation
Carl Morten Iversen, Norwegian PEN
Bjørn Engesland, Norwegian Helsinki Committee




In the past year, the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN has monitored over 1,000 attacks on writers and journalists in 90 countries, 200 of whom are serving long prison, others have been threatened, harassed and attacked. Tragically, since 15 November 2007, 31 have been killed, many clearly in the pursuit of their professions, others in unclear circumstances.

On 15 November every year, PEN’s membership of writers world wide celebrates the courage of others in standing up against repression and for the principle of freedom of expression and the right to information. This Day of the Imprisoned Writer sees writers world wide sending appeals, staging events, and commemorating their fellow colleagues. Each year PEN focuses on five cases – one from each world region and each illustrating the type of repression that is faced daily by those who question, challenge and illustrate daily lives through their writings.

This year the focus cases are:

Azerbaijan: Eynullah Fatullayev – a journalist serving an eight year prison term for his political commentary and investigations into the murder of another journalist in 2005;

China: Tsering Woeser – a Tibetan writer and poet who writes in Chinese and who has been banned and suffers harassment for her writings on Tibet;

Iran: Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand – a journalist and Kurdish rights activist serving an 11-year prison sentence;

Peru: Melissa Rocío Patiño Hinostroza – a student and poet currently on trial for alleged links to a terrorist organisation, although there is no evidence of her having carried out or advocated violence;

Zimbabwe: Writers, Cast and Crew – The Crocodile of Zambezi – a play that has been banned and led to actors and crew being beaten, and the playwrights threatened.