Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is very worried about the health of Faiq Amirov, the imprisoned financial director of the leading opposition daily Azadlig, and calls for his immediate release and an end to the government’s harassment of the newspaper.
Held on absurd charges since 20 August, Amirov is now in a critical condition, his lawyer reported on 9 November. He has not been given appropriate food for the chronic stomach ailment he suffers and has lost 20 kilos. His lawyer’s request for Amirov’s transfer to a centre with medical facilities has gone unanswered.
“Not only is Faiq Amirov’s detention completely unjustified but he is also being denied the medical treatment he badly needs,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“This situation speaks volumes about respect for human rights in Azerbaijan. We are extremely concerned about Amirov and we reiterate our call for his immediate and unconditional release. At the very least, he must be given the care that his state of health demands.”
Amirov’s arrest has allowed the government to create new, additional problems for Azadlig, which had already been forced to suspend publication as a result of various manoeuvres designed to throttle it economically.
Without Amirov’s signature, Azadlig has been unable to interact with its bank, which has illegally refused to recognize the appointment of a new financial director. As a result, the company that prints Azadlig has not been paid and has stopped working with the newspaper.
Police investigators have meanwhile questioned a dozen persons who placed opposition party messages, advertisements, greetings or messages of condolences in Azadlig, asking them whether they paid the newspaper for these services.
Their apparent aim is to bring a criminal charges against Azadlig, accusing it of publishing disguised advertising or commissioned articles, but they have yet to find anyone willing to testify against the newspaper. Those questioned have also been warned that providing any material assistance to Azadlig would be regarded as “supporting the enemies of the people.”
“This kind of harassment is not new,” Azadlig editor Ganimat Zayid said. “It’s just a new attempt to eliminate our newspaper. This is not the first time we have had to suspend publication but we have never given up. The sole reason for Faiq’s arrest was the fact that he is our financial director. They have closed the purse strings.”
Amirov was detained in the course of a wave of arrests of alleged sympathizers with the movement in nearby Turkey that is led by Fethullah Gülen, the US-based cleric regarded by Turkey’s government as the mastermind of last July’s failed coup attempt.
The police planted the books about the Gülen Movement’s philosophy that were “found” in the trunk of Amirov’s car at the time of his arrest, Amirov says. They are anyway not banned in Azerbaijan and well known figures close to the government even helped to write them.
Azerbaijan is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. Seymour Khazi, a well-known Azadlig reporter who has been in prison for more than two years on trumped-up charges, was nominated for the 2016 RSF-TV5 Monde Press Freedom Prize.