Reporters Without Borders is angered by the escalating judicial harassment of Hilal Mammadov, human rights defender and editor of the newspaper Tolishi Sado (Voice of the Talysh), who was arrested on 21 June and could face life imprisonment.
“We are totally outraged at the latest charges levelled against Hilal Mammadov and at the penalty he could face,” the press freedom organization said.
“This is quite absurd and is an indication of the growing tension between the Iranian and Azeri secret services. This escalation must stop and it is intolerable that journalists and activists continue to be caught up in it in this manner. We insist that Hilal Mammadov be freed as soon as possible.”
Mammadov was arrested on 21 June and charged with "large-scale drugs trafficking" under article 234.4.3 of the criminal code.
The interior minister and the public prosecutor said in a joint statement issued yesterday that an investigation had produced evidence of espionage against Mamedov. It said he was recruited in 1992 by an Iranian intelligence officer, Abdol Ali oglu Hamzayev, to gather and pass on information.
Charged with "high treason" under article 274 of the criminal code, as well as “incitement to national, racial, social or religious hatred” under article 283.2.2, he could face a life sentence and the seizure of all his possessions if convicted.
He is alleged to have cooperated with the Iranian secret services and of carrying out activities “harmful to the sovereignty, national security and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan”.
His case has been handed over to the serious crimes department of the attorney-general’s office and a team of investigators from the prosecutor’s office, the interior ministry and the national security ministry has been assigned to it.
In 2008, Novruzali Mammadov, a journalist from the same publication, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for espionage and incitement to ethnic hatred. He was declared dead in Baku prison hospital in August 2009 after being tortured. He was 68 years old.
Similar espionage charges have also been made against the young Azerbaijani writers Farid Huseyn and Shahriyar Hajizade, who have been held in Iran for the past few weeks. They could face between one year and five years in prison under article 502 of the Iranian criminal code.
They were kidnapped on 2 May in the northern Iranian city of Tabriz on their way back from a news conference in Tehran. They were first reported as missing until the authorities announced nearly a month and a half later that they were under arrest.
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