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Annual Prison Census 2013 - Azerbaijan

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date 18 December 2013
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Annual Prison Census 2013 - Azerbaijan, 18 December 2013, available at: [accessed 21 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Journalists in prison as of December 1, 2013

Azerbaijan: 8

Avaz Zeynally, Khural
Imprisoned: October 28, 2011

Zeynally, editor of the independent daily Khural, was arrested in October 2011, after a then-parliament member, Gyuler Akhmedova, accused him of bribery and extortion. Akhmedova alleged that the editor had tried to extort 10,000 manat (US$12,700) from her in August 2011, according to regional and international press reports. After Zeynally was arrested, authorities confiscated all of Khural's reporting equipment, citing the newsroom's inability to pay damages in a separate 2010 defamation lawsuit filed by presidential administration officials. Khural now publishes online only.

Zeynally denied the accusations and described a much different encounter with Akhmedova, Kavkazsky Uzel reported. In September 2011, Zeynally reported in Khural that Akhmedova had offered him money in exchange for his paper's loyalty to authorities. He reported that he had refused the offer.

According to news reports and CPJ sources, Zeynally's trial, which started in May 2012, was marred with procedural violations and lack of evidence. Zeynally's lawyer, Elchin Sadygov, told Kavkazsky Uzel that the prosecution witnesses had failed to support with credible evidence any of the charges lodged against Zeynally.

In September 2012, Akhmedova resigned from parliament after a video surfaced on the Internet that purported to show her demanding a bribe from a potential candidate in exchange for a seat in parliament. Although she was imprisoned on swindling charges, authorities did not drop the charges against Zeynally.

Emin Huseynov, director of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, told CPJ that weeks before Zeynally's arrest, his paper had criticized President Ilham Aliyev's repressive policies toward independent journalists and opposition activists. Zeynally had published two commentaries in Khural that were especially critical of the administration. In the first, he disparaged comments made by Aliyev in an Al-Jazeera interview that painted a glowing picture of the country's development. In the second, Zeynally accused the government of retaliatory prosecution against Khural, Huseynov told CPJ.

On March 9, 2013, the Baku-based Court for Grave Crimes sentenced Zeynally to a nine-year prison term after convicting him on criminal charges including tax evasion, bribery, and extortion. The tax evasion charges were introduced after tax authorities alleged that Zeynally had avoided tax payments since 2008, according to reports.

CPJ believes the charges to be fabricated in retaliation for Zeynally's reporting and commentary.

News accounts reported that Zeynally is being held in a penal colony, but have not offered further details.

Faramaz Novruzoglu (Faramaz Allahverdiyev), freelance
Imprisoned: April 18, 2012

Authorities arrested Novruzoglu, who is also identified in news reports as Faramaz Allahverdiyev, in April 2012 after accusing him of incitement to mass disorder and illegal border crossing. Novruzoglu denied the accusations, and insisted in court that the charges were fabricated in connection to his reporting on government corruption and abuses.

Authorities said that in March 2011, Novruzoglu called for mass disobedience on a Facebook page, and that five months prior, he had illegally crossed the border into Turkey, according to the regional press. During his trial, Novruzoglu said that both charges were unsubstantiated: Authorities showed no evidence connecting him to the Facebook page; his passport, which he provided to the court, indicated other travel during the time that he was accused of having crossed the border into Turkey, reports said.

Prior to his arrest and imprisonment, Novruzoglu contributed reporting to the independent newspaper Milletim and published critical articles on social networking websites, according to Kavkazsky Uzel.

Emin Huseynov, director of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, told CPJ that investigators failed to present any credible evidence against the journalist and that the state-appointed defense attorney did not effectively defend him in court. According to Huseynov and Kavkazsky Uzel, Novruzoglu and his colleagues said they believed that he was targeted in retaliation for critical articles he wrote on high-level corruption in the export of Azerbaijani crude oil and the import of Russian timber.

In August 2012, a district court in Baku convicted him on all charges and sentenced him to four and a half years in jail, news reports said.

News accounts reported that he is being held in a penal colony, but have not offered further details.

Nijat Aliyev, Azadxeber
Imprisoned: May 20, 2012

Baku police arrested Aliyev, editor-in-chief of the independent news website Azadxeber, near a subway station in downtown Baku, and charged him with illegal drug possession. A local court ordered Aliyev to be held in pretrial detention; since then, authorities extended his imprisonment several times.

Colleagues disputed the charges, and said they were in retaliation for his journalism. Aliyev's deputy, Parvin Zeynalov, told local journalists that the outlet's critical reporting on the government's religion policies, including perceived anti-Islamic activities, could have prompted the editor's arrest.

CPJ has documented a pattern of cases in which Azerbaijani authorities file questionable drug charges against journalists whose coverage has been at odds with official views.

Aliyev's lawyer, Anar Gasimli, told the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety that investigators tortured the journalist in custody and pressured him to admit he had drugs in his possession. According to the institute, Gasimli said police also threatened to plant narcotics in the editor's apartment and file "more serious" charges against him.

In January 2013, authorities slapped Aliyev with additional charges of illegal import and sale of religious literature, making calls to overturn the constitutional regime, and incitement to ethnic and religious hatred, the institute reported. In March 2013, investigators finished the probe against the editor. His trial was ongoing in late 2013.

In September 2013, the institute said Aliyev was being held in pretrial detention, but did not offer further details.

Hilal Mamedov, Talyshi Sado
Imprisoned: June 21, 2012

Baku police detained Mamedov, editor of minority newspaper Talyshi Sado (Voice of the Talysh), on June 21, 2012, after allegedly finding drugs, about five grams of heroin, in his pocket, the Azeri-language service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Following his arrest, Baku police declared that they had found another 30 grams of heroin in Mamedov's home, which they searched the same day, news reports said. A day later, a district court in Baku ordered Mamedov imprisoned for three months before trial on drug possession charges, the reports said. Mamedov's family claimed police had planted the drugs, and his colleagues said they believed the editor had been targeted in retaliation for his reporting, the reports said.

Talyshi Sado covered issues affecting the Talysh ethnic minority group in Azerbaijan. Mamedov's articles have been published in Talyshi Sado and on regional and Russia-based news websites, according to Emin Huseynov, director of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety. Huseynov told CPJ that Mamedov had investigated the 2009 death in prison of Novruzali Mamedov, Talyshi Sado's former chief editor.

In July 2012, authorities lodged another set of charges against Mamedov, including treason and incitement to ethnic and religious hatred, news reports said. Azerbaijan's interior ministry said in a statement that Mamedov had undermined the country's security in his articles for Talyshi Sado, in interviews with the Iranian broadcaster Sahar TV, and in unnamed books that he had allegedly translated and distributed. The statement also denounced domestic and international protests against Mamedov's imprisonment and said the journalist had used his office to spy for Iran.

In September 2013, Mamedov was convicted on charges of drug possession, treason, and incitement to ethnic and religious hatred, and was sentenced to five years in jail, regional press reported.His trial was marred with procedural violations and authorities failed to back up their charges with credible evidence, news reports said.

Local human rights defenders said they believe the conviction was in retaliation for Mamedov's criticism of the authorities' lack of an investigation into the death in custody of Novruzali Mamedov. News reports said he had been denied adequate medical treatment for several illnesses. After his death, human rights and press freedom groups including CPJ repeatedly called in vain for an independent investigation into his death.

According to Kavkazsky Uzel, the court ruled that Mamedov was to serve his sentence in a strict penal colony. The report did not offer further details.

Araz Guliyev, Xeber 44
Imprisoned: September 8, 2012

Guliyev, chief editor of news website Xeber 44, was arrested on hooliganism charges in September 2012 while reporting on a protest in the southeastern city of Masally, news reports said. Local residents were protesting dancers at a festival who they perceived to be not properly clothed, the reports said. Police arrested the demonstrators, who were calling on the festival organizers to respect religious traditions.

During Guliyev's pretrial detention, authorities expanded his charges to include "illegal possession, storage, and transportation of firearms," "participation in activities that disrupt public order," "inciting ethnic and religious hatred," "resisting authority," and "offensive action against the flag and emblem of Azerbaijan."

Guliyev's brother, Azer, told Kavkazsky Uzel that his brother's imprisonment could be related to his coverage of local protests against an official ban on headscarves and veils in public schools. Xeber 44 covers news about religious life in Azerbaijan and international events in the Islamic world. The journalist's lawyer told Kavkazsky Uzel that investigators claimed to have found a grenade while searching Guliyev's home, but his lawyer said the investigators had planted it.

In April 2013, the Lankaran Court on Grave Crimes convicted Guliyev of all charges and sentenced him to eight years in jail.

Guliyev's lawyer, Fariz Namazli, told the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety that the charges against the journalist were not substantiated in court and that witness testimonies conflicted with one another. The lawyer also said that Guliyev had been beaten by authorities after his arrest and that he was not immediately granted access to a lawyer.

In late 2012, Guliyev's brother said the journalist was being held in a Kurdakhani prison. In late 2013, Guliyev's whereabouts were unknown.

Tofiq Yaqublu, Yeni Musavat
Imprisoned: January 24, 2013

Police arrested Yaqublu, a columnist for the leading opposition daily Yeni Musavat, when he arrived at the town of Ismayilli to interview local residents about the causes of riots that shook the town, according to news reports.

On February 4, 2013, the Nasimi District Court in Baku ordered Yaqublu jailed for two months pending trial on charges of organizing mass disorder and violently resisting the police. If convicted, Yaqublu faced up to 10 years in jail. Ilgar Mammadov, an opposition politician who was arrested with Yaqublu, was imprisoned on similar charges, according to news reports. Authorities extended Yaqublu's pretrial detention several times during the year.

Kavkazsky Uzel reported that the charges against the journalist were in connection to the riots in Ismayilli on January 23, 2013. Thousands of local residents demonstrated to demand a local governor's resignation after regional authorities refused to shut down a motel that allegedly housed a brothel, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. News reports said the motel, which protesters later burned to the ground, allegedly belonged to the family of a high-ranking government official. Authorities sent police to quell the demonstrations; more than 100 residents were detained, the radio station's Azeri service said.

Rauf Ariforglu, Yeni Musavat's chief editor, told Kavkazsky Uzel that his newspaper had sent Yaqublu to Ismayilli to report on the riots, and that the journalist had his press card with him at the time of his arrest. Emin Huseynov, head of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, confirmed that Yaqublu was in the town to report on the unrest, telling CPJ that staffers from the institute saw the journalist working there.

Yaqublu is being held at a pretrial detention facility in Baku, according to the institute. His trial was ongoing in late 2013, Kavkazsky Uzel reported.

Sardar Alibeili, P.S. Nota
Imprisoned: July 31, 2013

On July 31, 2013, Baku police took Alibeili, chief editor of the independent newspaper P.S. Nota, to a police station, where a local resident accused the editor of having attacked him. Alibeili denied the allegation but was held nonetheless.

Two days later, a district court in Baku ordered Alibeili imprisoned for two months pending an investigation into a criminal hooliganism charge, according to news reports. The charge carries up to seven years in jail, the reports said.

Alibeili has frequently criticized President Ilham Aliyev and his administration in P.S. Nota and has published commentaries by exiled politicians and army officers who accuse the president of corruption, human rights abuses, and authoritarianism. Kavkazsky Uzel reported that in a recent Facebook post Alibeili had published a collage that depicted Aliyev in handcuffs.

Alibeili, who previously edited the independent newspaper Nota Bene, has been imprisoned in retaliation for his work before, CPJ research shows. In July 2009, a court in Baku convicted Alibeili on criminal defamation charges, and imprisoned him for three months. In April 2007, the editor was convicted of defaming Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and served 18 months of corrective labor.

Alibeili is being held at a pretrial detention facility in Baku. His trial was ongoing in late 2013.

Parviz Hashimli, Moderator, Bizim Yol
Imprisoned: September 17, 2013

Agents with the National Security Agency, or MNB, arrested Hashimli, editor of the independent news website Moderator and a reporter for the independent newspaper Bizim Yol, outside the offices of the Moderator in Baku. The same day, agents also raided his home, without presenting a court order and in the absence of a lawyer, and claimed to have found a pistol and several hand grenades, according to news reports.

Agents also raided the newsrooms of the Moderator and Bizim Yol and confiscated their equipment, the independent news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported. Both outlets are known for their coverage of corruption and human rights abuses as well as for their critical reporting on the government of President Ilham Aliyev.

On September 19, 2013, the Sabail District Court in Baku ordered Hashimli imprisoned for two months pending an investigation into accusations of smuggling and the illegal possession of weapons, according to news reports. The charges carry up to 13 years in jail. Hashimli denied the allegations.

Emin Huseynov, director of the Baku-based press freedom group Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, told CPJ that he believed the charges against Hashimli were fabricated, and that his arrest was meant to be a threat to the local press in the run-up to the October 2013 election. Aliyev was subsequently declared the winner of a third term in the polls.

Citing Hashimli's lawyer, Huseynov told CPJ that agents had orchestrated the detention of the journalist. He said that a man named Tavvakyul Gurbanov had called Hashimli to meet him outside the Moderator offices in connection to what he said was a personal matter. When Hashimli went outside and sat in Gurbanov's car, agents surrounded the vehicle and searched it. The agents claimed to have found six guns as well as ammunition. News reports said that Gurbanov said he had brought the weapons on Hashimli's request, which the journalist denied. Hashimli also denied ever having met Gurbanov before.

Gurbanov was also detained and faced similar charges, news reports said.

Hashimli is being held in a pretrial detention center in Baku. In November 2013, his pretrial detention was extended for three months, according to news reports. He is being held at the MNB detention facility, reports said.

A date for his trial had not been announced in late 2013.

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