The letters will be printed out and sent to Penitentiary No. 17 where Hezi is detained.
Rahim Haciyev, acting editor of Azadliq newspaper, said Hezi’s health is suffering due to the prison conditions but he continues to write about the country’s recent political history.
Hezi was sentenced five years in prison in 2015 for “aggravated hooliganism”, according to Azadlıq Radiosu.
He was previously charged with disorderly conduct in 2014 after an altercation where the journalist defended himself from a physical assault and harassment, according to his lawyers.
The reason for Hezi’s imprisonment is seen as politically influenced due to his public activities. Haciyev said Hezi published critical articles of the authorities in the newspaper, along with critiques in his online TV broadcast “Azerbaijani Hour”.
The journalist’s family and lawyers say that his sentencing was politically motivated and biased. [/vc_column_text][vc_cta h2=”Take Action” color=”pink”]
Rahim Haciyev, acting editor-in-chief of 2014 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Journalism Award-winning Azerbaijani newspaper Azadliq (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)
Civil, political and human rights are harshly restricted and frequently violated in Azerbaijan. Independent and critical journalists frequently find themselves — or their families — targeted.
Rahim Haciyev, acting editor in chief of the Index Award-winning independent newspaper Azadliq, was forced to flee Azerbaijan after years of official harassment. The government has repeatedly cracked-down on dissent.
Haciyev wrote to Index on Censorship from exile in a western European country:
I’m very sorry that the repressive policy of the Azerbaijani authorities against the Azadliq newspaper forced me to leave the country.
After the arrest of the newspaper’s financial director Faig Amirli, the authorities soon stopped issuing a print version. Amirli was arrested on obviously fabricated charges. I was summoned several times to the prosecutor’s office several times to testify about the paper’s financial affairs. The prosecutors said that this was connected with the criminal case of Amirli, but are invesitgating him under charges of “inciting religious hatred” and “violating the rights of citizens under the pretext of conducting religious rights”.
It turned out that they were interested in the financial issues of the newspaper in order to find a way to silence it. In addition, several employees of the newspaper were summoned for questioning. Then a court ordered tax authorities to comb through the paper’s financial activities. It’s clear that this was undertaken to increase pressure on the newspaper and me personally.
Aiming to cripple Azadliq, the government-owned distribution company was ordered to withhold circulation receipts — $84,000. So we weren’t able to print or even pay our bills. Three staffers are in prison — Seymur Hezi, Faig Amirli and Elchin. Each of them had sharply criticised the lawlessness and corruption of Azerbaijani officials.
In February, 11 Azadliq employees were summoned to the prosecutor’s offices to be interrogated again. Several government agencies increased their pressure on the newspaper’s online operation.
I had been warned twice in the past two years by the prosecutor general’s office that under my leadership Azadliq had been slandering Azerbaijani authorities. In their notices I was told that failure to comply with their terms would mean legal repercussions for me. But I refused. The newspaper continued to report on corruption, abuses of power and the absence of the rule of law. We were devoted to pursuing the truth.
And that is why the authorities intensified repression against the newspaper. Now this lawlessness has forced me to leave the country.
This decision was extremely difficult. I am cut off from my family and friends. I have two children and don’t know when I will see them again.
But despite all the problems I will continue to work daily for the newspaper’s website.
It’s my job, this is my job, this is my life.
Acting Editor-in-Chief, Azadliq
Haciyev is just one of the many journalists who have been targeted by Azerbaijani authorities in recent years. The country is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, which ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. Almost everyone who speaks out against the regime of President Ilham Aliyev, including journalists, human rights defenders, activists and bloggers, are commonly imprisoned on spurious charges, such as drug and weapon possession, hooliganism and tax evasion. Reports of torture and abuse are typical by those being detained. At least 15 Azerbaijani prisoners of conscience currently remain in jail, including:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]
Mehman Huseynov (Twitter)
Mehman Huseynov, an Azerbaijani journalist and pro-opposition blogger, was sentenced to two years in jail on 3 March by a Baku court for defaming the police chief of the city’s Nasimi district. Huseynov intends to appeal his sentencing. According to Front Line Defenders, a group of police officers violently attacked Huseynov on 9 January. The next he was brought to court, found guilty of disobeying police orders and fined 200 manat (£96). [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]
Founder and editor of online news portal Kend.info Elchin Ismayilli was arrested on 17 February on charges of “extorting money” and “aggravated abuse of a position of influence”. According to the Caucasian Knot, he was also accused of blackmailing a local office, charges he insists were fabricated to silence his coverage of local corruption and human rights violations. On 18 February, Ismayilli was sentenced to a pre-trial detention period of 24 days. He has previously been subject to multiple arrests and cases of harassment related to his work as a journalist.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]
On 3 March, a court decided to prolong the period of investigation of Faig Amirli for three months, the Azerbaijan Press Agency reported. Amirli, financial director of newspaper and assistant chairman of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (APFP), was arrested on 20 August 2016 for “inciting religious hatred” and “violating the rights of citizens under the pretext of conducting religious rights,” according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]
Writer and blogger Rashad Ramazanov was arrested on 9 May 2013 and sentenced to nine years in prison. According to English PEN, his charges included “illegal possession and sale of drugs”. Police claimed to have found nine grams of heroin on his body, although Ramazanov insists that the drugs were planted by the officers, who he claims also beat him up and tortured him during interrogation. Ramazanov was sentenced to nine years in prison in November 2013 on a trumped-up drug trafficking charge. PEN International reported that on 23 January Ramazanov was moved to solitary confinement for 15 days, the reason for which remains unknown. On 7 February Ramazanov was released from solitary confinement, and his family was given permission to visit him.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]
Founder and editor of the website Azel, Afgan Sadygov, was sentenced on 12 January to 2.5 years in jail. Sadygov was arrested on 22 November 2016 based on accusations of “hooliganism” after he was attacked on 9 August 2016 and allegedly hit a woman, Contact Online news reported. Sadygov’s website often reports on issues such as poor infrastructure maintenance, bad quality of roads and waste of public funds in Azerbaijan’s Jalilabad region.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]
According to MeydanTV, the Supreme Court will hear the appeal of Seymur Hezi, reporter for opposition news source Azadliq and presenter for critical TV program “Azerbaycan Saati” on 13 April. The journalist was sentenced to five years in prison on 29 January 2015 on a trumped-up charge of aggravated hooliganism, Index on Censorship reported. The charge came after Hezi was attacked on 29 August by Maherram Hasanov, a complete stranger, and defended himself. Hezi has accused President Ilham Aliyev and chief of staff Ramiz Mehdyev of ordering his arrest.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]
The lawyer of Nijat Aliyev, former chief editor of religious website Azadxeber.org, has not been able to get hold of the text of the verdict of the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan for his client, Contact Online news reported. Aliyev’s lawyer believes that the delay has been intentional in order to prevent the filing of a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, Contact Online news reported. According to IRFS, Aliyev was detained on 20 May 2012 and sentenced to 10 years in prison on 9 December 2013 on charges of illegal possession of drugs and weapons, incitement of religious hatred, calls to seize power and distributing banned religious literature. Aliyev’s website previously published criticisms of the government’s policies in regards to religion, the possibility of a LGBT parade in Baku and the allotment of too much funding for the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, OCCRP reported.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]
Russian-Israeli travel blogger Alexander Lapshin was extradited from Belarus to Azerbaijan on 7 February. He faces up to five years in prison on charges of “public calls against the state” and “unauthorised crossing of borders,” according to Armenian News Agency ArmenPress. These charges came after Lapshin traveled to the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and sympathised in his blog entries with the Armenians he met, GlobalResearch reported. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]
Fikrat Faramazoglu, editor-in-chief of news website jam.az, has been detained since 30 June 2016 on the charge of extortion by means of threats, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. According to Azerbaijan Free Expression Platform, these charges originated when a local restaurant owner accused Faramazoglu of extorting money from him when asked to remove defamatory articles about the restaurant on websites owned by the journalist.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]
Blogger and social media activist Abdul Abilov has been imprisoned since 22 November 2013. According to Azerbaijan Free Expression Platform, Abilov was charged with illegal possession, storage and manufacturing or sale of drugs when authorities claim to have found illegal drugs in his home and on his person, which Abilov continues to protest were planted on him. On 27 May 2014 Abilov was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison. Stop Sycophants!, the Facebook page previously run by Abilov, was shut down following his arrest, IRFS reported. The page was known to strongly criticise authorities.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Azadliq journalist Seymur Hezi was arrested in August 2014. He was subsequently convicted of aggravated hooliganism and sentenced to five years in prison.
Azerbaijan has never had a strong record on press freedom. Since independence, the country’s journalists have been mistreated, while independent and opposition newspapers faced constant libel charges and other harassment from local law enforcement or criminal elements.
Journalists and outlets that support government policies are left alone to fill their pages with praise, while those who take a more critical approach are punished. Official court documents detail how journalists have been sent to prison on trumped-up charges of hooliganism, extortion, trafficking, and instigating mass protests and violence.
In practice, however, targeted journalists reported on official corruption, criticised extravagant government spending or documented illegal evictions. While the country’s leaders and key decision makers pay lip service to media freedom, the government continues to hunt down journalists, activists and human rights defenders.
Periodic waves of arrests have created a sense of fear that has suffocated the country’s journalists. Independent media — like Index award-winning Azadliq — have been pushed into bankruptcy through the withholding of funds and spurious libel litigation. Even media organisations based outside the country — like meydan.tv — have been subject to harassment and punitive investigations. Azerbaijan’s small but remaining mass of independent voices is shrinking.
The timeline, beginning in 2003, includes journalists and bloggers who have been arrested and sentenced on bogus charges.
Seymur Hezi was sentenced to five years in prison for “aggravated hooliganism” on 29 January 2015.
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.