Six journalists from the independent Azerbaijani investigative website Abzas Media have been under arrest since November 2023. They had previously transmitted elements of their investigations to the Paris-based Forbidden Stories collective, which took over their work in collaboration with 14 European news organisations in the "The Baku Connection" project, including FRANCE 24 and RFI. This article focuses on the tensions surrounding a mine in the west of the country, whose gold ends up in the products of major high-tech brands.
The anger was visible on their faces as they faced off against squadrons of riot police sent to silence them. On June 20, 2023, residents of the village of Söyüdlü, in western Azerbaijan, demonstrated to reject the construction of a new reservoir to store toxic waste from a gold mine that has been operating in the area since 2012. An initial reservoir had been installed by Anglo Asian Mining, the British company that operates the mine, but it was close to capacity. The villagers believe it had led to soil and river water pollution, and that the fumes escaping from it were causing an increase in respiratory illnesses.
The first reservoir, with a capacity of 6 million cubic metres, is located a few hundred meters from Söyüdlü. To separate the gold from the rock, Anglo Asian Mining uses cyanide, and dumps the sludge generated by the process, which contains toxic products including cyanide and arsenic, into the reservoir, known as a tailings pond. The company says that the quantities of waste do not threaten the environment or the health of local residents.