Credit: mikecogh on Flickr. Some rights reserved

The first edition of the European Games begins today in Baku, Azerbaijan until June 28. However, the country's current human rights and press freedom situation could affect journalists' ability to report freely on the Games and even endanger their safety.

Just yesterday, the Azeri government banned The Guardian from reporting on the event.

Juhi, Azerbaijan's trade union of journalists, is a member of both the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), but the country has imprisoned seven journalists critical of the regime in the build up to the Games.

We would like journalists to not just look after their own security, but also to protect their workJim Boumelha, IFJ president
Press freedom organisations and human rights leaders' call to release the journalists before the start of the event have been ignored.

In April, Azerbaijan's foreign ministry warned that press accreditations for the Games could be cancelled for any coverage deemed to be against the country's "territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty".

In light of this, the IFJ and EFJ commissioned Alan Pearce, a journalist and author specialising in cyber-security and counter-surveillance, to put together a list of digital safety tips for journalists covering the event.

"We are concerned that journalists may be subject to surveillance by the Azeri security services if they trespass the limits and boundaries fixed by their official accreditation to cover other issues than the Baku 2015 European Games," said Jim Boumelha, president of the IFJ, in an announcement accompanying the safety advice.

"We would like journalists to not just look after their own security, which is our number one concern, but also to protect their work," Boumelha told Journalism.co.uk.

Some of Pearce's tips for journalists include:
  • Removing personal details and contacts from devices and storing any sensitive information on a spare SD card or USB drive, before heading to Baku.
  • Installing open-source anti-spyware in case communication is monitored. Lookout is an iOS and Android app that protects the device against unsecure WI-Fi networks and fraudulent links.
  • Keep their mobile devices in sight at all times once in Baku. Applying a coat of glitter nail polish over a laptop or tablet and then taking a photo of it with your smartphone can later show if the device has been tampered with.
  • Keeping devices in airplane mode and carefully considering attachments in messages or e-mails before opening.
  • If connecting to a 3G or Wi-Fi network, journalists should employ a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to prevent being tracked. Hotspot Shield is a free option which also allows mobile access to Twitter and Facebook even if these services are blocked locally.
  • Other useful apps recommended by Pearce are Jitsi, an open-source encrypted service for audio and video calls and chats; Top Secret Video Recorder, that allows you to camouflage and schedule your video recording and Exif Eraser, which prevents pictures from being tracked by removing or altering the EXIF data automatically implanted by the camera.
"We believe that, under the Olympic Charter, there should be full coverage from different media outlets and the widest possible audience. Therefore, journalists should be free to report not only on sports, but also on the environmental context which includes the conditions for human rights and press freedom," Boumelha continued.

He pointed out that, according to figures from the Azeri authorities, roughly 1,300 international journalists will be covering the event.

Boumelha's main piece of advice for journalists covering the games is to "be brave and forthcoming" in their coverage and try to equip themselves to understand "what Azerbaijan is today".

The context is not just the stadium around you, but also the capital and the people living thereJim Boumelha, IFJ president
"Look at the context and try to understand it. The context is not just the stadium around you, but also the capital and the people living there."

He also hopes other media organisations and newsrooms will help expose attacks on press freedom by supporting their journalists.

"You don't want to have a situation where editors are so prudent and coy that they will tell their journalists 'don't do anything and just concentrate on what's happening in the stadium'," said Boulemha.

"Let's hope they are aware that they are part of the efforts made to help their Azeri colleagues."

Update: This article has been updated to reflect that Azerbaijan's trade union of journalists, not Azerbaijan, is a member of both the IFJ and EFJ.

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