Reporter who was assaulted is jailed for “disturbing public order”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Azerbaijani government to release Zaur Gambarov, a journalist who has been jailed on a trumped-up charge of “disturbing public order” in connection with incident last year in which he was attacked and beaten by an official and his driver.
A reporter for the Anews.az website, Gambarov was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on 28 February over an altercation at the local branch of the social security department in the western city of Gadabay when he went there on 4 May 2020 to investigate a complaint.
In the course of the argument, the social security department’s deputy director, Ibrahim Alasgarov, and his driver hit Gambarov and threatened to bring a legal action against him in order to get him imprisoned. The reporter and his website complained to the labour ministry about the attack, and the police said they would investigate.
Gambarov says their attack was a direct result of a video published two days earlier in which he referred to the mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic in the region and described the system of corruption within the local branch of the social security department.
Against all logic, Gambarov found himself accused of being the one who started the violence. The official and his driver claimed that he used a chair to attack them. If the altercation was filmed by the building’s video cameras, the court refused to show the videos and no fingerprints were taken from the chair.
“This cynical reversal of the situation has yet again illustrated the impunity enjoyed by those responsible for violence against journalists in Azerbaijan,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Zaur Gambarov has not been jailed for assaulting anyone. He has been jailed for journalism that was critical and revealing about the social and economic problems in the Gadabay region. We firmly condemn this unjustified decision in a trumped-up case, and we call for his immediate release.”
In another example of impunity in Azerbaijan, Monitor newspaper editor Elmar Huseynov’s murder is still unpunished 16 years later. A journalistic investigation published on 2 March shed light on the various forms of obstruction and many errors by the police and judicial apparatus during their investigation into his murder.
The authorities often fabricate cases against independent journalists. The recent victims include Polad Aslanov, the editor of the Xeberman and Press Az news websites, who was sentenced last November to 16 years in prison on a trumped-up charge of high treason.
Azerbaijan is ranked 168th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.