Six Azerbaijani journalists arrested in two weeks

A YouTube news channel presenter was sentenced to 30 days in prison for “disobeying the police,” becoming the sixth journalist to be jailed in the past two weeks in a crackdown by President Ilham Aliyev on Azerbaijan’s few remaining independent media. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Council of Europe to remind the authorities of their international commitments and to make them release all the journalists in the country.

The hunt for journalists from the few remaining independent media operating in Azerbaijan continues: the latest victim is YouTube Kanal 13 news presenter Rufat Muradli, whose arrest in the capital, Baku, on 2 December followed that of his YouTube channel’s director and four Abzas Media journalists.

Arrested by plainclothes police as he was parking his car in a carpark, Muradli denied using “using obscene language in the street” and “disobeying” the police officers who addressed a “remark” at him. He was nonetheless given a 30-day sentence under article 535.1 of Azerbaijan’s Administrative Code.

 Before his arrest, he was about to interview the mother of Abzas Media editor Sevinj Vagifqizi, who was arrested on 20 November. The independent Turan news agency quoted Muradli’s lawyer as saying the verdict in his client’s case was “premeditated” that the judge refused to allow any audio or video recording during the hearing and that no written transcription was made.

“Rufat Muradli is the sixth journalist to be arrested in the past two weeks. We are witnessing a real manhunt, confirming that the objective of the Azerbaijani authorities is to eliminate all independent media voices exposing the actions of a corrupt political elite that operates with complete impunity. What with arbitrary arrests, violence, and fabricated evidence, we denounce this crackdown and call on the Council of Europe to remind President Aliyev’s government of its commitments, and to make it release all the journalists.

Jeanne Cavelier
Head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk

As well as its editor, Vagifqizi, the other three Abzas Media journalists arrested since 20 November are its director, Ulvi Hasanli, the director’s assistant, Mahammad Kekalov, and reporter Nargiz Absalamova.

 The other journalist arrested in the past few days, Kanal 13 director Aziz Orujov, appeared on 4 December before a court in Baku, which rejected his appeal against his pre-trial detention order, as it did already on 27 November for two of the Abzas Media journalists.

Hasanli and Vagifqizi, who have been subjected to mistreatment and denied visits and phone calls with their families, are facing up to eight years in prison on a trumped-up charge of “smuggling foreign currency.”

The other members of Abzas Media’s staff no longer have access to their offices and are being subjected to repeated interrogations. Abzas Media and Kanal 13 are both independent media outlets that often provide investigative reporting on corruption cases involving persons close to President Aliyev.

Two freelance journalists – Aytaj Mammadli and Shahla Kerim – who were briefly arrested while reporting on a local market on 2 December, were arrested again on 4 December while interviewing passers-by on a street in the southern city of Lankaran. The police questioned them, accused them of spying and deleted their video interviews, the journalists said, accusing the police of subjecting them to “psychological harassment.”

Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry has accused organisations based in the United States, Germany and France of “illegally fundingAbzas Media, while pro-government media have been waging smear campaigns against journalists and NGOs such as RSF, accusing them without any basis or evidence of being part of an international anti-Azerbaijan “network” funded by the United States.

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