The lawyer for the editor-in-chief of an Azerbaijani news website has claimed his client was tortured following his arrest.
Nijat Aliyev from Islamic news website Azadexber was arrested on 20 May for narcotics charges and put in two months of pre-trial detention. According to Azerbaijan-based organisation Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), the editor’s lawyer Anar Gasimli has said that Aliyev has been blackmailed while in custody.
Police allegedly condemned the editor for his frequent articles about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, after Nijat admitted to disseminating anti-LGBT material ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest last week.
Gasimli said: “Nijat claims that he was questioned by police. Nijat did not co-operate at which point the police beat him with their fists and, at one point, a chair. The police told him that, as he had written anti-LGBT material, they would put two homosexual men in his cell and then he will become gay too.”
Police also allegedly threatened that if he did not admit to the drug related charges, he would be sentenced to more than five years in prison under more serious charges. According to Gasimli, they also threatened to plant drugs at his apartment, endangering his family, though Gasimli said legal measures had been taken to prevent this.
Emin Huseynov from IRFS said: “We cannot comment on the material that Nijat was said to have distributed, but Nijat Aliyev did not kill anyone, he merely published material and we support the right of people’s freedom of expression.”
This is not the first time a journalist has faced random drug charges. Eynulla Fatullayev, who worked as a reporter on Elmar Huseynov’s magazine Monitor in Azerbaijan and later founded and edited Realny Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaycan, served almost four years in prison for defamation. The conviction in 2007 followed years of harassment and intimidation by the Azerbaijani authorities, including being charged with drug possession in July 2010. Fatullayev was eventually pardoned in 26 May 2011.
Huseynov added: “Certainly the trumped up drugs allegations are nothing new. It started in 2006, with Mirza Sakit, then again with Eynulla Fatullayev and there are numerous other cases. The police regularly accuse activists of drug use yet do not provide any DNA evidence to back up their claims, nor do they admit doctors into prisons.”
Local blogger Haji Hajiyev suggested that the arrest was an attempt to reassure the West that they are tackling Islamic extremism. He said: “It is interesting that they choose to focus on this particular issue at a time when the international community is voicing concerns about human rights and democracy in Azerbaijan.”
Aliyev is currently being held at Kurdakhani investigative prison, but it is believed the torture came from officers of Yasamal District Police Office whilst he was being held in custody. Gasimli says the editor had been tortured in such a way “that no mark of torture was left on his body”.
Gaimili added: “My client could be imprisoned for up to three years. This is against his right to freedom to expression and if unsuccessful, we will take this case to the European Court of Human Rights.”
Alice Purkiss is an editorial assistant at Index. She tweets at @alicemaypurkiss