Update: Anar Mammadov convicted to a suspended sentence of five and a half years for the sames charges as Mustafa Hajibeyli on 18 March 2019.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the absurd suspended sentence of five and a half years in prison that Azerbaijani opposition journalist Mustafa Hajibeyli received yesterday in connection with his coverage of last July’s assassination attempt on the mayor of the western city of Ganja. His conviction must be quashed on appeal, RSF said.
Convicting Hajibeyli on charges of calling for the government’s overthrow, abuse of authority and forgery, the court ruled that he will not have to serve the jail term if he commits no further crime for the next two years, during which he will be under judicial control and banned from travelling abroad. Hajibeyli said he will appeal.
The editor of the Bastainfo.com news website, Hajibeyli was convicted over articles that took a critical look at the Ganja mayor’s behaviour prior to the July attempt on his life, and criticized the authorities for failing to intervene to prevent the ensuing violence.
Because of these articles, Bastainfo.com was immediately blocked without a court order, although other media outlets had previously published them. During Hajibeyli’s trial, the experts and witnesses produced by the prosecution failed to identify what passages in the articles constituted a call for the government’s overthrow. Independent jurists insist that they contained no such call.
“This absurd conviction is just another ploy to intimidate the few critical media remaining in Azerbaijan,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We urge the international community to impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for this crackdown and to condition all financial support for Baku on respect for press freedom and human rights.”
Azerbaijan is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index. The leading critical media outlets have been silenced or have had to relocate abroad, the main independent websites are blocked, at least ten journalists are currently in prison, and the activities of NGOs that support the media have been criminalized.