Azerbaijan: RSF outraged by court’s decision to confirm journalist’s sentence
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by yesterday’s Azerbaijani appeal court decision to uphold journalist Elchin Hasanov’s conviction on a trumped-up hooliganism charge and to confirm his sentence, which is to pay part of his salary to the state for one year.
The act of hooliganism supposedly took place when, after being the target of a smear campaign, Hasanov met with one of the campaign’s organizers to ask him to end the smears. This person attacked Hasanov verbally and physically during the meeting, as attested in a medical certificate issued at the time.
Hasanov immediately filed a complaint with the police but, in the course of the ensuing two months, the case backfired.
After he gave his initial statement, the police responded by banning him from leaving the country. Then he found himself accused of having attacked his aggressor. This role reversal occured shortly after the publication of an article by Hasanov describing how goods reserved for the army were being sold on the black market.
The charge was upgraded to “knife attack,” for which the prosecutor requested a sentence of three and a half years in prison. But, in the absence of any supporting evidence, it was quickly changed again to hooliganism, the charge on which he was finally convicted and sentenced to a year of work in the general interest. In Azerbaijan, this means handing part of your salary over to the state every month.
“We are outraged by this decision, which condemns Elchin Hasanov to destitution,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We are only too familar with the methods of Azerbaijan’s government, which shamelessly uses the judicial system to silence outspoken journalists. These methods must stop.”
Charges of hooliganism, assault or possession of drugs are often brought against journalists in Azerbajian. RSF is aware of at least seven journalists and bloggers who are currently detained on trumped-up charges because of their reporting.
Azerbaijan is ranked 163rd out 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.