On the anniversary of Azerbaijani journalist Seymur Hezi’s sentencing to five years imprisonment for “aggravated hooliganism,” the country’s authorities have continued to target journalists, independent media and human rights activists.
Hezi, who contributed to the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award-winning newspaper Azadliq, was sentenced on 29 January 2015. He was arrested on 29 August 2014 following an altercation in which the journalist was defending himself from a physical assault and harassment, according to his lawyers.
Rahim Haciyev, acting editor of Azadliq, told Index in September 2015 Hezi’s prosecution was due to his critical articles of the Azerbaijan authorities in the newspaper, as well as critiques he had made in his online TV programme, Azerbaijan Hour.
Haciyev said Hezi’s health is “very bad” due to the Azerbaijan’s awful prison conditions. Despite this, he said the journalist is working on articles about the country’s recent political history — some of which have been published in Azadliq.
In Hezi’s final statement given during his trial, he noted his belief in the shared struggle “with my dear friends at prison”. He also said: “It is not just a confrontation between the government and the opposition. It is the struggle between the good and the evil.”
After a year activism and journalism dedicated to free expression within the restricting country, not much positive change can be seen. Investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova remains in jail, doing everything in her power to continue spreading the message of truth and resistance. Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney recently offered to take Ismayilova’s case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Azadliq, which was one of Azerbaijan’s only remaining independent news outlets operating inside the country, was forced to discontinue publishing a daily print edition of the newspaper in July 2014, due to its financial situation. The paper was hit with enormous fines following multiple defamation suits in 2013, and its journalists — including Hezi — have been targeted by authorities with politically motivated charges.
“The repression and detainment of journalists are continuing,” Haciyev said. “[The] government has started to arrest Facebook activists.”
Haciyev said that because the government cannot solve its country’s main problems, they try to create new problems for society through eliminating any chance of other opinions being promoted.