Journalists in prison as of December 1, 2012

Azerbaijan: 9

Aidyn Dzhaniyev, Khural
Imprisoned: September 7, 2011

Regional authorities in Lenkoran, southeastern Azerbaijan, arrested Dzhaniyev on allegations of insulting a local woman and transferred him to a Baku detention facility. Later, while Dzhaniyev was in pretrial detention, authorities also accused him of breaking windows at a Lenkoran mosque, news reports said. Dzhaniyev, a reporter with the independent daily Khural, denied the accusations.

On November 21, 2011, a regional court convicted Dzhaniyev of hooliganism and sentenced him to three years in jail, local press reports said. His appeal was denied. An independent investigation by local journalists, cited by the independent Azerbaijani news agency Turan, concluded that the charges came in reprisal for Dzhaniyev's reporting on allegations that Lenkoran religious leaders were involved in drug trafficking.

CPJ has documented a pattern in which Azerbaijani authorities have filed retaliatory charges against critical journalists covering sensitive issues. CPJ has found those charges to be unsubstantiated.

Avaz Zeynally, Khural
Imprisoned: October 28, 2011

Authorities in Baku arrested Zeynally, editor of the independent daily Khural, on bribery and extortion charges stemming from a complaint filed by Gyuler Akhmedova, a member of Azerbaijani parliament. Akhmedova alleged that the editor had tried to extort 10,000 manat (US$12,700) from her in August 2011, regional and international press reports said. The day after his arrest, a district court in Baku sanctioned Zeynally's pretrial imprisonment for three months, the independent Caucasus news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported. Authorities also confiscated all of Khural's reporting equipment, citing the newsroom's inability to pay damages in a 2010 defamation lawsuit filed by presidential administration officials. Khural now publishes online only.

Zeynally denied all charges 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. 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.

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.

Authorities have extended Zeynally's pretrial detention several times. A trial began in May 2012 but was pending in late year. If convicted, Zeynally faces up to 12 years in jail.

Anar Bayramli, Sahar TV and Fars
Imprisoned: February 22, 2012

Baku police visited Bayramli's home, summoned him for interrogation, and detained him after declaring they had found 0.387 grams of heroin in his jacket, news reports said. Bayramli, a Baku-based correspondent for the Iranian Sahar TV and Fars news agency, denied the accusations and said police planted the drugs. In June 2012, the Binagadinsky District Court convicted Bayramli of drug possession and sentenced him to two years in prison, the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported.

The arrest came at a time of heightened tension between the Azerbaijani and Iranian governments. Tehran had accused Azerbaijan of helping Israel assassinate an Iranian nuclear scientist; Baku had claimed Iran was plotting attacks in Azerbaijan.

Local rights activists told CPJ they believed that police planted the drugs in retaliation for Bayramli's journalism. In his broadcasts, Bayramli often reported on Azerbaijan's human rights record and criticized Azerbaijani foreign policy, including its supposed cooperation with Israel. Prior to his arrest, police told Bayramli several times to visit their headquarters for what they termed "a conversation," during which they urged him to stop working for Iranian media, Emin Huseynov of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety told CPJ.

In an interview interpreted by Huseynov, the journalist's lawyer said Bayramli took off his jacket at the district police headquarters and left it in the lobby before entering the office of the local police chief. As the journalist was about to leave the building after the meeting, police agents suddenly asked him to reveal the contents of his jacket and found heroin.

Bayramli denied the drug charges in court and said he was being persecuted for his journalism. "If Azerbaijan had an independent court, it would certainly release me," he told the court. "But since courts in our country are an appendage of the state, I don't expect a fair verdict." CPJ has documented a recent pattern of cases in which Azerbaijani authorities have filed questionable drug charges against journalists whose coverage has been at odds with official views.

Vugar Gonagov, Khayal TV
Zaur Guliyev, Khayal TV
Imprisoned: March 13, 2012

Authorities arrested Gonagov, director of the regional TV channel Khayal, and Guliyev, Khayal's chief editor, on charges of inciting mass disorder, local press reports said. Guliyev was also accused of abuse of office, the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported. The charges stemmed from March riots in the northeastern city of Quba, which began when a video posted on YouTube showed a regional governor making insulting comments to local residents. Following the riots, the governor was ousted.

Authorities accused Guliyev and Gonagov of uploading the video and causing "mass unrest." Both men denied the charges. They were placed in a Baku detention facility without access to defense lawyers; local media reports said they were tortured in custody. Authorities extended the journalists' pretrial detention several times, arguing that investigators needed more time to bring a case to trial, news reports said. Guliyev faced up to 10 years in jail and Gonagov up to three years.

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

A Nizami District Court in Baku sentenced Novruzoglu, also known as Faramaz Allahverdiyev, to four and a half years in prison on charges of illegal border crossing and inciting mass disorder, the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported. Novruzoglu denied the accusations and said they had been fabricated in retaliation for his investigative stories on government corruption published in the independent newspaper Milletim and on social networking websites.

Novruzoglu was accused of calling for mass disobedience on a Facebook page under the name of Elchin Ilgaroglu, news reports said. Authorities also accused him of illegally crossing the border into Turkey in November 2010, Kavkazsky Uzel reported. During his trial, Novruzoglu said investigators found no evidence connecting him to the Facebook page, Kavkazsky Uzel reported. He also presented the court with his passport, which showed other travel during the time that he was accused of having crossed the border into Turkey, reports said.

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.

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 that Aliyev be held in pretrial detention.

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 could have prompted the editor's arrest.

Aliyev's lawyer, Anar Gasimli, told the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, or IRFŞ that investigators tortured the journalist in custody and pressured him to admit he had drugs in his possession. According to IRFŞ Gasimli said police also threatened to plant narcotics in the editor's apartment and file "more serious" charges against him. No trial date had been set by late year.

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

Hilal Mamedov, Talyshi Sado
Imprisoned: June 21, 2012

Baku police detained Mamedov, editor of minority newspaper Talyshi Sado (Voice of the Talysh), after allegedly finding about five grams of heroin in his pocket, according to the Azeri-language service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. On the day of his arrest, Mamedov went to visit his relative in a hospital and did not return home as promised, his family members told journalists.

Following his arrest, Baku police raided the journalist's home and said they found another 30 grams of heroin, news reports said. The next day, a district court in Baku ordered Mamedov to be imprisoned for three months before trial on drug possession charges, the reports said. Mamedov's family claimed police had planted the drugs, and colleagues said they believed the editor had been targeted in retaliation for his reporting, the reports said.

Talyshi Sado covers issues affecting the Talysh ethnic minority group in Azerbaijan. Mamedov's own 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 also told CPJ that Mamedov had investigated the 2009 death in prison of Novruzali Mamedov, Talyshi Sado's former chief editor.

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

In July, authorities brought another set of politically motivated charges against Mamedov, lodging separate counts of 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 his 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.

Mamedov awaited trial in late year. If convicted, he faces a life term in prison, Reuters reported.

Araz Guliyev, Xeber 44
Imprisoned: September 8, 2012

Guliyev, chief editor of news website Xeber 44, which focuses on religious topics, was arrested on hooliganism charges while reporting on a protest in the southeastern city of Masally, the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported. The rally was staged by local residents protesting against partially clad dancers who performed at a government-sponsored folklore festival in Masally.

According to news reports, the protesters called on the festival organizers to respect religious traditions of the local residents, but police detained the protesters and charged them with hooliganism. Two days later, a regional court ordered Guliyev jailed for two months pending trial.

Guliyev's brother, Azer, told Kavkazsky Uzel that the journalist did not participate in the protest but covered it for his website. Guliyev's imprisonment could also be related to his reporting on local residents' protests against an official ban on headscarves and veils in public schools, his brother told Kavkazsky Uzel.

This 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.