Reporters Without Borders condemns yesterday’s decision by a Baku court to extend well-known newspaper reporter Rauf Mirkadyrov’s pre-trial detention. Already held for more than a year, he will now remain in detention until 19 September at least.
A foreign correspondent for the weekly Zerkalo, Mirkadyrov was arrested on trumped-up charges of “high treason” and “spying for Armenia” after being extradited from Turkey in April 2014.
The “evidence” against Mirkadyrov is a video showing him signing some papers at an international seminar in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. The intelligence services claim that, while there, he received money from Armenia in exchange for information about Azerbaijan’s armed forces.
Stressing the “absurdity” of the charges, Mirkadyrov’s lawyer has announced his intention to appeal against the “illegal” extension of his pre-trial detention.
“We are deeply outraged by the charges brought against Rauf Mirkadyrov, which are worthy of a bygone age,” said Johann Bihr the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“There can be no doubt about the political nature of his detention. We again call on the authorities to abandon this prosecution and to release this journalist without delay.”
One of Zerkalo’s leading reporters and writers for many years, he is known for being critical not only of the Azerbaijani government but also the Turkish and Russian ones. Zerkalo was forced to suspend publishing in May 2014 after being economically throttled.
The extension of Mirkadyrov’s detention comes amid an unprecedented crackdown on the few remaining media outlets in Azerbaijan. Khadija Ismayilova, the country’s leading investigative journalist, has begun her sixth month in pre-trial detention.
Ismayilova was originally detained on the basis of an accusation made by a person who has since recognized having been pressured to do so by the security services. Four additional charges were brought against Ismayilova in February.
Azerbaijan is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.