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June 21, 2019

Azerbaijani reporter facing possible life sentence on treason charge

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the trumped-up treason charge on which Polad Aslanov, an Azerbaijani reporter who often covers corruption, is now facing the possibility of life imprisonment.

The editor of the Xeberman and Press-az news websites, Aslanov was placed in pre-trial detention on 14 June, two days after being arrested at Azerbaijan’s border with Iran, where he was heading for a wedding with his wife and daughter. In a search of his and his mother’s homes after his arrest, security agents seized a camera and computer equipment.

The State Security Service (DTX) accuses Aslanov of providing a foreign country with sensitive information, defaming the state in his reporting, and putting other Azerbaijani journalists in touch with foreign intelligence agencies.

Aslanov denies all the charges, insisting that he is a victim of a reprisal linked to his reporting. As part of his coverage of corruption, he has been working on a story allegedly implicating members of the DTX in extortion.

“Everything indicates that Polad Aslanov is the latest victim of Azerbaijan’s constant persecution of critical journalists,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We call for his immediate release and the release of the six other journalists who are unjustly imprisoned in Azerbaijan.”

Aslanov’s lawyer was able to visit him on 14 June but they were not allowed to talk alone. According to his wife, he was originally declared unfit for military service only to be ordered to report for military service last year, at the age of 29, shortly after he first began criticizing the authorities in his reporting.

Aslanov was arrested on the same day that another journalist, Ikram Rahimov, was sentenced to five and a half years in prison on an embezzlement charge for which no convincing evidence was produced at his trial.

The editor of the Realliq.info news website, he was arrested in October 2018, shortly after publishing an open letter criticizing the financial assistance that presidential chief of staff Ali Hasanov provides to “loyal” media outlets.

Azerbaijan is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index. The leading critical media outlets have been silenced or have had to relocate abroad, the main independent websites are blocked and at least seven journalists are currently in prison.