MEDIA FREEDOM
Azerbaijan: Press freedom violations April 2019
30 Apr 2019
BY INDEX ON CENSORSHIP

Index on Censorship’s Monitoring and Advocating for Media Freedom project tracks press freedom violations in five countries: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. Learn more.

9 Incidents

Journalist sentenced to 12 years in jail

30 April 2019 – Editor of qafqaznews.az Mahmud Tagiyev was sentenced to 12 years reported Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Europe.

Tagiyev was found guilty on charges of extortion.

The journalist refutes the accusation and says he is being framed. In his statement, Taghiyev said this was a punishment for his attempt to receive full payment of the property he has sold to an employee of the Prosecutor Office but was unable to receive the payment since the sale of the property. The criminal investigation against the journalist was opened February 8, 2019.

Links:

https://open.az/hadise/azerbaycanda-xeber-agentliyinin-rehberine-cinayet-isi-acildi.html

http://www.tezadlar.az/index.php?newsid=44654

https://ona.az/az/hadise/mahmud-tagiyeve-12-il-hebs-cezasi-verilib-9168

https://www.azadliq.org/a/sayt-r%C9%99hb%C9%99ri-12-il-azadl%C4%B1qdan-m%C9%99hrum-edilib/29912713.html

Categories: Arrest/Detention/Interrogation; Criminal Charges/Fines/Sentences; Legal Measures

Source of violation: Court/Judicial; Government/State Agency/Public official(s)/Political party

Journalist called in for questioning at the Organized Crime Unit

24 April 2019 – Editor of an online news site az24saat.org Vugar Gurdganli was invited for questioning at the Chief Organized Crime Unit in Baku, reported independent online new platform Meydan TV.

Gurdqanli wrote on his Facebook that he received a phone call from a man who introduced himself as an employee of the Crime Unit and asked that Gurdqanli came in for questioning. The journalist said he told the man on the phone that he needs to see an official letter of complaint first before he comes in. Gurdqanli also mentioned that he asked what this questioning was about, but was only told that there has been a complaint against him.

Gurdqanli suspects this call was linked to previous threats he has been receiving after re-publishing a story that was first released by Meydan TV about Ramil Usubov, the Minister of the Interior and his business empire.

Gurdqanli’s website az24saat.org has been blocked for access since 2018.

Links: https://www.meydan.tv/az/article/sayt-redaktoru-meydan-tv-nin-yazisina-gore-bandotdele-cagirildigini-dusunur/?ref=search

https://meydan.tv/az/article/polis-coreyi-ve-ya-usubovlarin-biznesi/?ref=homepage-feature-articles

https://www.abzas.net/2019/04/redaktor-bu-yazi-d%C9%99rc-edildikd%C9%99n-sonra-bir-nec%C9%99-d%C9%99f%C9%99-h%C9%99d%C9%99-qorxu-almisam/

https://www.humanrightsclub.net/x%C9%99b%C9%99rl%C9%99r/2019/jurnalist-bandotdel-%C9%99-cagirilib/

Categories: Arrest/Detention/Interrogation; Intimidation; Blocked Access

Source of violation: Police/State security

News Agency refused accreditation to cover Formula 1 race

24 April 2019 – Turan News Agency, the only remaining independent news agency was refused accreditation to cover the Formula 1 race that will take place between 26 – 28 April, reported independent Meydan TV.

The accreditation was denied by the Baku City Circuit, the main company in charge of organising the race.

Turan News Agency applied for accreditation already in January but the request was denied on no grounds said Turan News Agency in a statement.

The agency considered this decision intentional and continuation of state policy on restricting freedom of the speech. The agency received accreditation in 2017-2018.

Links:

https://meydan.tv/az/article/turan-informasiya-agentliyi-formula-1-yarismasinin-teskilatcilarini-diskriminasiyada-ittiham-edib/?ref=homepage-news

http://www.turan.az/ext/news/2019/4/free/Want%20to%20Say/az/80433.htm

https://www.amerikaninsesi.org/a/turan-i%CC%87nformasiya-agentliyi-formula-1-t%C9%99r%C9%99find%C9%99n-diskriminasiyan%C4%B1-pisl%C9%99yir/4887629.html

Categories: Blocked access

Source of violation: Corporation/company

Journalist’s health deteriorates in prison

Azerbaijan journalist Afgan Mukhtarli

Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli

23 April 2019 – Afgan Mukhtarli, Azerbaijani journalist who was kidnapped in Georgia, taken across the border to Azerbaijan and charged with illegal border crossing and smuggling, is suffering from a series of health complications reported independent Meydan TV and journalist’s wife, Leyla Mustafayeva.

Speaking to her husband on April 22, Mustafayeva said Mukhtarli is suffering from severe pain in his eyes and none of the test results from previous examinations were made available to the journalist’s family. “They [prison management] are guarding results as if they were state secrets”, said Mustafayeva.

Mustafayeva, blames the ruling authority in her husband’s deteriorating health.

Mukhtarli lived in exile in Georgia where he moved in 2015 and from where he continued covering Azerbaijan.

Background:

Muktharli was on his way home to meet his wife but he never showed up, his wife said in a statement the next day. Mukhtarli’s whereabouts were only made public hours later.

Independent investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova confirmed on Facebook that Mukhtarli was kidnapped from his neighbourhood where he was forced into a car, his hands were tied and he was beaten. His lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, told the Committee for the Protection of Journalists “He was beaten, has a broken nose, bruises all over his head and right eye, his rib may be broken”.

He was then transported across the border into Azerbaijan without his passport.

He is being charged with illegal border crossing, smuggling and resisting law enforcement. Azerbaijan police also claim Mukhtarli was in possession of 10,000 EUR during police search while illegally crossing Georgia-Azerbaijan border.

Mukhtarli, whose wife and child are still in Tbilisi, fled to Georgia from Azerbaijan in 2015, after receiving threats over his investigative reporting on corruption in the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry.

UPDATE: 30 May, 2017 – The following day on 30 May Afgan was sentenced to 3 months in pretrial detention, Azadliq reported.

UPDATE: 31 August, 2017 – A court in Baku rejected journalist Mukhtarli’s appeal to release him under house arrest reported Radio Azadliq, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty.

Speaking to journalists outside the court, Mukhtarli’s lawyer Zibeyde Sadigova said the hearing took place behind closed doors where Mukhtarli was present.

UPDATE: 4 October, 2017 – The journalist’s lawyer Zibeyda Sadigova reported that Mukhtarli has been barred from having phone calls and is only allowed to speak with his wife reported Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan service for Radio Free Europe.

“Normally he was allowed three phone calls but since last week, he has only been allowed to speak with his wife”, said the lawyer in an interview with Azadliq Radio.

Prison management has also barred him from receiving books and meeting with his other family members, said his lawyer.

That same day, the court reviewed the lawyer’s appeal to release Mukhtarli under house arrest, however, the judge ruled against the motion.

UPDATE: 26 October, 2017 – The Baku Appellate Court rejected complaints Mukhtarli filed, reported Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Europe.

The two complaints concerned preventing Mukhtarli from meeting with his family members, and limiting his phone calls.

The penitentiary service declined to comment on the reasons behind the limitations placed on Mukhtarli.

UPDATE: 7 November, 2017 – Court in Baku refused to release Mukhtarli under house arrest reported Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Europe.

This was his fourth request to release him under house arrest.

The court claims Mukhtarli’s release under house arrest might influence the direction of the investigation. However, the investigation into the case has already finished.

The lawyers say they will file an appeal against the decision.

UPDATE: 12 January, 2018 – A Court in Balakan district of Azerbaijan sentenced journalist Afgan Muhkhtarli to six years in jail reported Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Europe.

The court found Mukhtarli guilty of smuggling (Article 206), using force against government employee (Article 315) and illegal border crossing (Article 318) . The prosecutor, who had asked for an eight year sentence, said all these crimes were proved during the investigation, Azadliq Radio reported.

The court also dismissed lawyers’ motion to include investigation material from Georgia while the prosecutor claimed these documents were irrelevant to the case.

UPDATE: 7 November, 2018 – The management at the jail where Afgan Mukhtarli is serving his sentence refused to send a letter from the journalist addressed to the Ministry of Justice, independent Turan news agency reported.

In his letter, Mukhtarli asks Justice Minister Fikret Mammadov to give him permission to speak with his family over Skype, which is not prohibited by Azerbaijani law.

Links: https://mappingmediafreedom.ushahidi.io/posts/21184

https://meydan.tv/az/article/efqan-muxtarlinin-gozunde-agrilar-emele-gelib/?ref=homepage-news

https://www.bbc.com/azeri/azerbaijan-47987264

Categories: Arrest/Detention/Interrogation; Criminal Charges/Fines/Sentences;

Source of violation: Government/State Agency/Public official(s)/Political party; Court/Judicial; Police/State security

The decision to block Meydan TV remained in force

23 April 2019 – Baku court of appeals ruled to keep the decision to block Meydan TV in force, reported independent Meydan TV.

The website of Meydan TV, an independent news platform based in Berlin, was blocked in May 2017 together with a number of other news websites including Azadliq Radio, Azadliq newspaper, Turan TV and Azerbaijan Saadi.

According to the original indictment these sites have attempted to change a constitutional order by force, openly called for mass riots and promoted radical religious organisations and their illegal activity.

Meydan TV was previously targeted in a criminal investigation. In a statement released in May 2016, Meydan TV said, it was facing charges of alleged illegal practice, large-scale profit-making and tax evasion and abuse of power resulting in falsification of elections and/or referendum results.

Links: https://meydan.tv/az/article/meydan-tv-nin-bloklanmasi-qerari-quvvede-qalib/?ref=homepage-news

https://mappingmediafreedom.ushahidi.io/posts/21076

http://www.turan.az/ext/news/2019/4/free/Social/az/80427.htm

Categories: Blocked access, legal measures, censorship

Source of violation: Government/State Agency/Public official(s)/Political party; Court/Judicial

Audio recording between two journalists leaked

9 April 2019 – US based Azerbaijani journalist Sevinc Osmangizi confirmed that a phone conversation with another journalist based in Germany was leaked by a pro-government news platform in Azerbaijan, reported Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Europe.

Osmangizi believes the conversation with the said journalist was recorded outside of their knowledge and that it was done by the special services in Azerbaijan.

Neither the authorities nor the news outlet that aired the conversation have commented on the developments.

The audio recording that was leaked took place several weeks ago before it was leaked and the two discussed possible project together.

Update:

26 April 2019 – After releasing the exchange between Osmangizi and another journalist, the authorities have now threatened Osmangizi to release intimate footage of the journalist, reported multiple sources in Azerbaijan and internationally.

Osmangizi is threatened by another journalist, formerly with Azerbaijan News Agency, Mirshahin Agayev who now heads a pro-government media platform Real TV.

In a video Osmangizi shared on her own YouTube channel, Osmangizi says, nothing is going to prevent her from doing her work, even such tricks as this one.

Osmangizi previously received death threats against her and her family.

Links: https://www.azadliq.org/a/sevinc-osmanq%C4%B1z%C4%B1-t%C9%99hl%C3%BCk%C9%99sizliyi-il%C9%99-ba%C4%9Fl%C4%B1-m%C3%BCraci%C9%99t-edib/29872316.html

https://www.facebook.com/kriminalpress/posts/1005561049641079

https://chai-khana.org/en/azerbaijans-ans-death-of-a-tv-station

https://www.facebook.com/AmnestyUKFormerSovietUnion/photos/rpp.411814202351103/1068344913364692/?type=3&theater

https://cpj.org/2016/10/azerbaijani-tv-journalists-receive-death-threats.php

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQCxqfgA-Cg&t=35s

Categories: Intimidation, Online Defamation/Discredit/Harassment/Verbal Abuse, Offline Defamation/Discredit/Harassment/Verbal Abuse

Source of violation: Police/State security, Government/State Agency/Public official(s)/Political party, Known private individual(s), Another media

Independent news website blocked

9 April 2019 – arqument.az has been rendered inaccessible and eventually blocked without any official notification to the editors, reported independent online news site Meydan TV.

The website’s editor Shamshad Aga speaking to the media, said, the website was subject to DDoS attacks before it was made completely inaccessible.

While it was possible to access the website through a VPN on April 8, as of April 9, this was no longer the case.

Argument.az was also blocked in 2018.

Links: https://mappingmediafreedom.ushahidi.io/posts/22551

https://www.meydan.tv/az/article/arqumentaz-saytina-giris-bloklanib/?ref=search

Categories: Blocked Access, DDoS/Hacking/Doxing

Source of violation: Police/State security; Government/State Agency/Public official(s)/Political party; Unknown

Blogger not allowed to leave the country

9 April 2019 – Former political prisoner, Mehman Huseynov was prevented from leaving the country reported Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Europe.

Huseynov was released from jail in March 2019 after having served the two year jail term.

Huseynov has been unable to leave the country for eight years.

The blogger had planned to travel to Berlin and Strasbourg to attend a conference organized by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. He was also scheduled to participate at a conference on journalists’ safety in Vienna, organized by the OSCE representative on freedom of the media.

Update: 13 April 2019 – Huseynov was finally allowed to leave Azerbaijan

Background:

Popular video blogger Mehman Huseynov was sentenced to two years in prison on defamation charges by the Surakhani district court. He was arrested in the courtroom, Azadiiq reported.

Nasimi district police chief Musa Musayev brought a lawsuit against Huseynov, claiming the blogger lied when he said that he had been tortured when he was detained in January 2017. Huseynov is the first person to be arrested for slander in Azerbaijan.

The blogger is the administrator of popular Facebook page Sancaq which has over 300,000 subscribers. He shares videos claiming to expose high level corruption among Azerbaijani officials.

Huseynov was detained on 9 January in central Baku, by a group of plain-clothed police officers. He was held incommunicado overnight allegedly for violating administrative rules. The next day, court fined him 200AZN (€100) on charges of disobeying the police (Article 535.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences). Speaking to journalists following his brief detention, Huseynov said police placed a sack over his head and used force against him during the detention. On 11 January, his lawyer Elchin Sadigov published pictures showing traces of torture on Huseynov’s body and blood stains on his clothes.

UPDATE: 12 April 2017 – Blogger Mehman Huseynov’s appeal was rejected by the Baku court of appeal, independent Azerbaijan service for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty reported.

Huseynov’s lawyer Elchin Sadigov said they will file an appeal to the supreme court, and described the appeal court’s decision as illegal and failing to observe legal norms.

UPDATE: 25 June 2018 – The Azerbaijan Supreme Court upheld the two-year prison sentence handed down to Mehman Huseynov in March 2017, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijan service reported.

Huseynov was not present at the hearing. His lawyer said the case would now be taken up with the European Court of Human Rights.

UPDATE: 24 August 2018 – A regional court in Garadag ruled against the motion for conditional release of the blogger Mehman Huseynov, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijan Service reported.

Speaking to Azadliq Radio, Huseynov’s lawyer Shahla Humbatova said the court reached its decision on the basis of a report submitted by the administration of the penitentiary where Huseynov is being held. The report concluded that Huseynov had failed to reform during his time in jail.

UPDATE: 26 December 2018 – New charges are being brought against Mehman Huseynov on the grounds that he “resisted a representative of the authorities with the use of violence dangerous to his health and life” – an accusation that Huseynov denies. If found guilty, he could face a further seven years in jail, the website of the international free expression website Ifex reported.

The new charges were brought just two months before he was due to be released from jail.

On the same day as the fresh charges were brought, Mehman announced that he was going on hunger strike. He refused to drink water until 30 December, but after this severe health complications forced him to start drinking water.

Huseynov suffers from a severe case of varicose vein rupture, and a prison doctor has recommended immediate medical intervention to stop the internal bleeding.

UPDATE: 7 January 2019 – Mehman Huseynov broke off his hunger strike and started to drink liquid dairy products after suffering from stomach pains, the pan-Caucasus website JAM News reported.

UPDATE: 15 January 2019 – Around a dozen people in Azerbaijan have begun hunger strikes as an act of solidarity with imprisoned blogger Mehman Huseynov, JAM News reported.

Five political prisoners have begun hunger strikes in prison, JAM said, adding that award-winning Azerbaijani reporter Khadija Ismaylova joined the hunger strike on 15 January to show her solidarity with political prisoners in the country.

Seven of those who began hunger strikes since the beginning of the year are members of the opposition party Musavat, including the deputy chairman of the party, Tofik Yaqublu. Two of the Musavat members have since broken off their hunger strikes.

UPDATE: 22 January 2019 – The Azerbaijani authorities announced that they are dropping the latest criminal charges brought against imprisoned blogger Mehman Huseynov, who has already spent more than two years in jail, Trend news agency reported.

The country’s Prosecutor General issued a statement saying that “The criminal case against Mehman Huseynov has been cancelled.”

The statement said that the decision to drop the charges had been taken after human rights defenders and Huseynov himself appealed directly to President Ilham Aliyev “to ensure the objectivity of the investigation.”

It noted that, based on the president’s recommendation, “The criminal case on Mehman Huseynov was terminated due to the fact that he is a young man, was not subject to disciplinary liability during his term of punishment, took the path of reform, and his old father is in need of care.”

Trend said that Aliyev, “for whom the principles of justice and humanism are always a priority, took the appeals into account and gave recommendations to the General Prosecutor’s Office to conduct an objective investigation of the criminal case, to take all necessary measures provided by law to make a fair and humane decision.”

The agency added that “the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan warns those who, for the sake of personal interests and political goals, are trying to create an artificial fuss around Mehman Huseynov, as well as the media spreading false information about him, that any illegal actions aimed at violating stability and tranquillity in the country will resolutely be stopped within the framework of the law.”

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty noted that the latest move comes after large-scale demonstrations in Baku in support of Huseynov and the adoption of a European Parliament resolution calling for his immediate release.

Links: https://mappingmediafreedom.ushahidi.io/posts/20892

https://www.azadliq.org/a/mehman-h%C3%BCseynov-m%C9%99ni-girov-kimi-saxlamaq-ist%C9%99yirl%C9%99r-/29870043.html

https://www.meydan.tv/en/article/blogger-mehman-huseynovs-travel-ban-lifted/?ref=article-related-artciles

https://cpj.org/2019/04/azerbaijani-blogger-mehman-huseynov-blocked-from-l.php

Categories: Intimidation, Blocked Access

Sources of violation: Police/State security, Government/State Agency/Public official(s)/Political party, Court/Judicial

The case of journalist killed after beating back in court

3 April 2019 – The case of Rasim Aliyev, journalist who died after sustaining injuries from a beating returned to court, reported Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Europe.

Aliyev died after getting beaten by family members of a national soccer player after Aliyev criticised the player on Facebook.

Aliyev said he received a phone call from an individual who claimed to be related to Huseynov. Aliyev said the caller argued with him over the phone about the Facebook post, then asked to meet. After the pair shook hands, Aliyev said he received a heavy blow to his left ear, and was attacked from behind.

On April 3, 2019 the Supreme Court heard the cassation complain of one of the assailants, Kanan Madatov.

The hearing adjourned after a break and the panel of judges ruled to keep the previous decision  in power.

Links: https://cpj.org/data/people/rasim-aliyev/

https://www.azadliq.org/a/d%C3%B6y%C3%BCl%C3%BCb-%C3%B6ld%C3%BCr%C3%BCl%C9%99n-jurnalistin-i%C5%9Fi-yen%C9%99-ali-m%C9%99hk%C9%99m%C9%99d%C9%99-ara%C5%9Fd%C4%B1r%C4%B1ld%C4%B1/29858638.html

Categories: Arrest/Detention/Interrogation, Criminal Charges/Fines/Sentences, Intimidation, Legal Measures;

Source of violation: Police/State security; Government/State Agency/Public official(s)/Political party; Court/Judicial

Governments must not “cherry pick” media outlets

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Project Exile: Reporter escaped Russia after beating, burns

Fatima Tlisova didn’t make it easy for the Russian government to get rid of her. As a reporter covering Russia’s fight against Chechen separatists in what was known as the Second Chechen war in the early 2000s, she was kidnapped, beaten and had her fingertips burned with cigarettes by Russian security forces.

Governments must uphold existing global commitments to protect media

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Project Exile: Criticising Kurdish referendum forces journalist to leave Iraq

Despite Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region’s close ties to the U.S. and billions of dollars in foreign investment, Iraqi Kurdistan is no easy place to be a journalist. Kamal Chomani’s experience is just one example.

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