December 22, 2015 - Updated on March 8, 2016

Rauf Mirkadyrov must be acquitted!

An Azerbaijani court is finally due to issue a verdict tomorrow in the trial of Rauf Mirkadyrov, a leading independent journalist who has been detained since April 2014. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its condemnation of the trumped-up charge of high treason and calls for his immediate release. Held behind closed doors in the capital, Baku, this sham trial is finally reaching its conclusion. The prosecutor requested a sentence of seven years in prison at the previous hearing on 16 December. “Like the trials of Khadija Ismayilova, Hilal Mammedov and so many others, Mirkadyrov’s trial has nothing to do with justice,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “This journalist is the latest victim of President Ilham Aliyev’s witchhunt against his regime’s critics. We again urge the authorities to end this persecution and to free Mirkadyrov.” Based in Turkey for the previous three years, he was arbitrarily stripped of his residence permit and deported on 18 April 2014 to Azerbaijan, where he was jailed on arrival. Although his health declined in prison, he continued to be held pending his trial, which finally began in the middle of last month, 18 months after his arrest. A co-founder of the opposition newspaper Bizim Yol, Mirkadyrov was also deputy editor of Monitor, a newspaper whose managing editor, Elmar Huseynov, was murdered in 2005. At the time of his arrest, Mirkadyrov was a correspondent for Zerkalo, a newspaper that was forced to close a few months later after being economically throttled by the regime. For years, Mirkadyrov covered the troubled Nagorno-Karabakh region – a part of Azerbaijan with a mostly Armenian population that proclaimed its independence in 1991 – and participated in various projects aimed at fostering dialogue among civil society groups and finding a solution to a stalemate that has endured since 1994. The authorities decided that these efforts constituted grounds for accusing him of “spying on behalf of Armenia.” Ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2015 press freedom index, Aliyev’s regime has been conducting an unprecedented crackdown on independent media outlets and human rights defenders for the past two years.