authorities arrest another blogger and block access to a public forum

Farid Suleymanov was arrested on January 8, 2024. He was sentenced to 30-day administrative detention. And although Suleymanov was scheduled for release on February 7 – the day of snap presidential elections – he was instead taken back to BandOtdel – the department for combating organized crime at the Ministry of the Interior. 

Suleymanov is an activist, lawyer, and blogger from Azerbaijan. Active on a number of social platforms, Suleymanov ran a TikTok channel called “I saw it, I showed you.” Through his videos, Suleymanov raised awareness of the illegal activities of the traffic police, exposing their unlawfulness. For this, he has been questioned several times but let go. He also informs his audience via his social media channels of other challenges and issues in the country. 

According to this video on Suleymanov’s YouTube channel, he was approached by a group of unknown men, who, without introducing themselves, shoved him into a white Mercedes and took him to BandOtdel.

Separately, Az-net Watch received an anonymous email from a reader informing the platform of the blocking of a Russian-language forum According to the information shared in the email, all three main mobile operators and local ISPs have blocked access to the website. On what grounds remains unclear. Earlier, Suleymanov’s daughter shared a post about her father’s unlawful arrest and detention. 

blogger arrested

Arzu Sayadoglu, known as a blogger who often critiques the state officials and the government, was reportedly arrested on January 28, 2024. According to family and friends, the blogger first went missing after an interview with an opposition YouTube channel, AzadSoz. It was announced two days later that the blogger was arrested and sent into pre-trial detention.

Meydan TV reported that the blogger was sentenced to four months in pre-trial detention and charged with extortion.

Authorities arrest blogger despite lack of evidence [Update March 1, 2024]

[Update] Mammadli may face a possible eight-year sentence, according to the hearing, which took place on February 29. During the hearing, lawyer Fariz Namazli said his defendant is being charged with the crimes without evidence proving Mammadli indeed committed fraud, hooliganism, and extortion. 

August 24, 2023 – Blogger Jamil Mammadli is facing multiple charges, including fraud, hooliganism, and extortion, and has been placed in administrative detention pending investigation, according to reports by local media.

The allegations leveled against the blogger claim that Mammadli allegedly influenced the participants of the trial and spread insulting posts about them on social networks. 

As such, according to the blogger’s lawyer, Fariz Namazli, the state prosecutor and the plaintiffs claim Mammadli allegedly obstructed the “legality” of the trial. Yet, after reviewing Mammadli’s social media posts, the blogger’s defense has concluded that the blogger’s posts were irrelevant to the trial. Moreover, the State Prosecutor failed to provide substantial evidence proving that the blogger was involved in any influence over the trial participants. 

Lawyer Namazli views the case as an attempt to restrict the blogger’s freedom of expression.

Mammadli was sentenced to one and a half years of community service in March 2022. At the time, the lawsuit was based on videos on Mammadli’s YouTube channel in which Mammadli claimed the executive branch was embezzling funds from persons receiving welfare payments. 

blogger accused of disobeying police

Nurlan Jafarli, an Azerbaijani blogger was sentenced to 15 days in administrative detention for disobeying police and petty hooliganism according to reporting by MeydanTV. 

Jafarli was arrested during a protest outside the Ministry of Justice on March 30. According to the reports, Jafarli, who was among the journalists covering the protest, shared via his Facebook an inquiry addressed to the Ministry of the Interior and the spokesperson for the ministry. In the post shared on the social media platform, Jafarli wrote about police violence the blogger was subject to while filming the protest for an online YouTube channel, Time TV, and that as a result, his phone was broken. “The officer you see in the video first hit me, then knocked me to the ground. As a result, I dropped my phone and cracked the screen […] I personally promise in front public that either the police officer will contact me and fix my phone himself, or I will be arrested on the grounds of using violence against a police officer.”

Jafarli, freelances for various online television channels. 

The Ministry of the Interior alleged Jafarli was arrested for interrupting police and acting outside journalism ethics.

a court in Azerbaijan jails the host of a YouTube show [Updated January, 2023]

[Update] According to local media reports, Gafarov suffered a clinical death on December 22, 2022, while receiving treatment in a medical facility of the prison service. However, instead of keeping him at the medical facility, the prison management decided to transfer Gafarov back to prison. 

Abid Gafarov, was sentenced to one year in prison on charges of insult and slander by a court in Baku. Speaking to the media after the verdict, Gafarov’s lawyer, Elchind Sadigov, said the charges leveled against his client were bogus. Gafarov, hosted a YouTube channel Kim.TV [Who is?]. He is also known for his coverage of the “Terter case” – a “notorious case in which dozens of military officers accused of spying for Armenia were tortured.”

Gafarov, is the second person to be targeted in the last two months who have been previously involved in coverage of the Terter Case. On June 10, lawyer and activist Ilham Aslanoglu was sentenced to six months in prison on insult charges 

According to local media reports, Gafarov was arrested based on complaints by a group of war veterans who felt insulted after Gafarov said during one of his shows, that the veterans were acting “obediently” instead of standing up for their rights. 

The sentence was handed despite the group of veterans later withdrawing their complaint against Gafarov reported the news site Jam-News, “Veterans of the war, officially recognized as plaintiffs, wrote a corresponding statement about the withdrawal of the claim. Despite this, Judge Tarlan Akperov, who was in charge of this case, decided to refer the case to the Yasamal District Court.”

On July 16, a group of rights defenders issued a statement condemning Gafarov’s arrest. 

exiled blogger says his life is in danger [updated June 3, 2022]

Tural Sadigli is an Azerbaijani blogger and political activist living in exile. He is the managing editor of a YouTube channel, Azad Soz – Free Word. According to Sadigli, his life is in danger as per Facebook posts, Sadigli shared on May 29 and 31 respectively.

Attention. There is a four-man squad sent to kill me in Germany. Somehow the squad acquired my home address in Germany and have been watching the house for the last week. They have been caught on security cameras. They were sent during Ilham Aliyev’s visit to Brussels. They must have thought that I will travel to Brussels from London and visit my apartment in Germany on the way. And catch me then. [German] Police already know their identities and two of them were checked by the police. Investigations continue. It is possible that they have already left [Germany].

I assure you that my life is in danger. They are really on to me this time. The order has come from the Presidential Apparatus. This is why, my parents, who both live in Baku will be staging a protest outside of the Presidential Apparatus at 14.00pm. I ask political parties, rights defenders, activists, journalists and everyone else, to come to their support.

In an interview with Meydan TV, the political activist said, it was his work exposing the extent of government corruption and specifically that of the ruling family that is the reason behind the targeting. “There is yet a journalist, or blogger, who has visited the home of the president abroad, knocked on its door and showed the audience in Azerbaijan the properties bought on their money.” The blogger also told Meydan TV that he was warned numerous times not to talk about Mehriban Aliyeva [the wife, and first Vice President] and her team. “They even tried to buy my silence, promising a monthly salary, as long as I did not touch the president and his family,” Sadigli told Meydan TV. 

This is not the first time Sadigli is threatened. Two years ago Sadigli was charged in absentia and authorities vowed to ask Interpol for his extradition. He was among a number of other activists targeted at the time. 

In addition to physical threats, Azad Soz, the YouTube vlog managed by Sadigli has also been targeted. In February of this year, AzNet Watch assisted AzadSoz to restore access to several videos that were taken off from YouTube in the absence of any explanation, and likely as a result of fake “complaints.” All of the videos were about SOCAR – the state oil company, its former president Rovnaq Abdullayev and his cousin Anar Alizada. The videos explain how Azad Soz discovered in their investigations that Anar Alizade owned a fake Turkish passport by another name. At the time of takedowns, Sadigli, told AzNet Watch that the only notification that he received from YouTube was an email telling him he was subject to NetzDG Appeals and that in all likelihood, it was the state oil company and Anar Alizada behind these requests.

Similar removals took place on the channel’s Facebook page. In both cases, the videos were restored following the intervention of a third party on behalf of AzadSoz. 

But the targeting did not stop there. According to Sadigli, the Facebook page was targeted again in April. “They [government sponsored trolls and actors] are studying old pictures, trying to identify violence that could be then reported by hundreds of fake accounts to Facebook as community guideline violations,” wrote the blogger on his Facebook on April 5.

Last month, in May, Azad Soz’s TikTok account was targeted as well. The account was shut down by the platform according to Sadigli. “You can shut them down, but we will open new ones. You won’t succeed at silencing Azad Soz [Free Word],” wrote Sadigli on Facebook. Previously AzadSoz was the target of inauthentic accounts on Facebook. The Guardian published this story explaining how Azad Soz’s Facebook account was flooded with over 1.5k comments over a post about two men sentenced to eight months. The Guardian investigation analyzed the top 300 comments and discovers that 294 out of 300 comments were inauthentic Facebook pages.

In 2018, Tural Sadigli, was among exiled political activists involved in a political campaign, called “Know Your Dictator.

blogger charged with drug possession sentenced to four months [Updated June 28]

[Update June 28] On June 25, the District Court rejected Ramazanov’s request to be moved under house arrest. The blogger’s lawyer Elchin Sadigov said they will appeal the decision.

[Update June 13] According to reporting by Turan News Agency, Ramazanov was taken to the Republican Psychiatric Hospital for tests. Ramazanov’s lawyer said this was not uncommon given the charges leveled against Ramazanov. 

On May 21, a court in Baku charged blogger Rashad Ramazanov (pen-name Rashad Hagigat Agaaddin) with illegal drug possession in large quantity, with an intention to sell under criminal code article 234.4.3, sentencing the blogger to four months in pretrial detention. Ramazanov was detained on May 20 according to reports by local media.

This is not the first time, Ramazanov has been detained. In 2013, the blogger was sentenced to nine years in jail on similar charges. At the time, rights groups, described the charges as trumped up. Officials claimed to have found heroin on the blogger. Ramazanov was released from jail in 2019 as part of a pardon issued by President Ilham Aliyev.

Ramazanov, often criticized the state on social media. According to human rights defender Rufat Safarov, the charges leveled against the blogger this time, are also related to his active criticism of the state.

If found guilty the blogger is facing anywhere between 5 to 12 years behind bars.

[Update] According to Turan News Agency, blogger Ramazanov said he was tortured in police custody. The ministry of the interior denied the claims. On May 27, the Baku appeal court reviewed the blogger’s case but ruled to keep Ramazanov behind bars reported Turan News Agency.

Blogger sentenced to 28 days in administrative detention [updated May 22, 2022]

[Update] On May 18, the appeal court denied the blogger’s appeal, refusing to review the blogger’s statement that he voluntarily showed up at the police station. The court also dismissed discrepancies in the case presented by the defense including the alleged claim that the blogger was released a day after his detention or that instead of an administrative sentence, the blogger should have been fined as this is the first time he is held criminally liable. 

On May 11, blogger Eyvaz Yakhyaoglu was sentenced to 28 days of administrative detention in Shirvan province of Azerbaijan. The blogger was accused of disobeying police according to reporting by Turan News Agency. 

The blogger, a member of the Azerbaijan Nationalist Democratic Party (ANDP) was called into questioning on May 9. According to the chairman of the political party, he was sentenced the following day. The party is certain that Yakhyaoglu’s prosecution is related to his online activism, specifically his YouTube channel “Shirvan TV – Eyvaz Eloglu.” 

The blogger often discussed violations of basic human rights in Shirvan, squandering of state property, and indifference of officials to the complaints of citizens. The blogger was warned several times before getting arrested, the party’s chairman, Galandar Mukhtarli told Turan News Agency.  

The local police allege Yakhyaoglu humiliated the local police officers outside the main building on May 9 and refused to stop after being called to order. The blogger denied the allegations, saying he arrived at the police station as per the invite and did not humiliate anybody.

blogger handed seven year jail sentence [Updated May 5]

[Update] According to OC Media, Gurbanov was relocated to a prison, which the lawyer says, is in breach of the law. Speaking to OC Media, lawyer Fariz Namazli said, the relocation was illegal as the defendant is awaiting the result of an appeal case. “This [the decision to relocate Gurbanov] was explained to me by the fact that the detention centre was overcrowded and there were a large number of detainees,” Namazli told OC Media. Meanwhile, Gurbanov’s brother said his brother was placed in solitary confinement over an alleged fight. Gurbanov’s lawyer Namazli could not confirm but said he has filed an appeal for further investigation. 

On April 15, blogger, Aslan Gurbanov was sentenced to seven years on charges of calls to overthrow the government and incitement of national, religious, and social hatred, according to Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan Service for Radio Free Liberty. Gurbanov was arrested on July 14. During his arrest, the blogger suffered from a seizure according to the Justice for Journalists records.

Gurbanov was arrested by the State Security Services and sentenced to four months detention. He was kept at the SSS’s pre-trial detention facility until the trial. 

According to the Azadliq Radio report the blogger was accused of anti-government propaganda on social media platforms and instigated national discrimination – the accusations, Gurbanov refutes. Contrary to the alleged claims that the blogger was disseminating false stories about the discrimination against the Talysh people – an ethnic minority group in Azerbaijan. 

In a statement issued by the Talysh Public Council of Azerbaijan, the group said, Gurbanov promoted Talysh culture and literature, and that accusing the blogger of plotting against the state was unsubstantiated. 

Gurbanov is not the first Talysh activist to be targeted in Azerbaijan. In 2007, the then editor of Talysho Syado (‘Talysh Voice’) newspaper Novruzali Mamedov was arrested initially on charges of ‘resisting law enforcement.’ He was later charged with treason. In his first 15 days in custody, Mamedov was held incommunicado at a [now former] Ministry of National Security detention center, and neither family members nor lawyers were able to visit him. In June 2008, Mamedov was convicted of treason for the ‘distribution of Talysh nationalist ideas and attempts to destroy the foundations of the Azerbaijani state’ and sentenced to 10 years in prison in a closed trial, in absence of his defense attorney, relatives, and the press. The prosecutors alleged that Mamedov received money from Iran to publish the newspaper, but failed to explain or comment on the charges publicly.

Mamedov died in prison in August 2009 as a result of a variety of health problems for which he never received adequate medical care reported Radio Liberty. 

In September 2013, another Talysh journalist, Hilal Mamedov was sentenced to five years in jail on charges of selling drugs, high treason including espionage for Iran, and incitement to national, racial, social, and religious hatred and hostility. Hilal Mamedov took over the editorial of the Talysho Syado after Novruzali Mamedov’s arrest. The journalist was pardoned in 2016 following the Presidential pardon decree. 

exiled blogger continues to receive threats [updated June 15, 2022]

[Update June 15] On June 12, French police arrested two men suspected of being sent to France to kill Mirzali. According to RSF, the two men – one Azerbaijani and the second Moldovan of Turkish origin – “were driving Polish-registered cars, and both had Mirzali’s address.” 

Mirzali tweeted about the arrest too:

The blogger also said that the government of Azerbaijan has filed three separate lawsuits against him on June 3. Defiant, Mirzali vowed to continue his activism regardless of threats. 

[Update] On April 26, 2022, a French court arrested and charged four men who were behind the stabbing of Mirzali according to the personal account of the blogger shared with AIW. The four men are accused of attempted murder as part of an organized group.

[Update] On June 1, a new attack targeting Mirzali took place outside of his apartment in France. According to the blogger’s personal account, someone broke the windows of his car and left a note behind, that said, “This is for you.”

He continues to receive threats via messages sent to his phone. The most recent one Mirzali received during an interview with RFERL, said, “you should behave yourself when I’m around.”

A statement issued by Reporters Without Borders on June 4, said, “Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to put an immediate stop to all threats and violence against Mahammad Mirzali, an Azerbaijani video blogger who is a refugee in France. He was badly stabbed in an attack last March and continues to be threatened near his home for criticizing his country’s authoritarian leader.”

On March 30, exiled blogger Mahammad Mirzali shared screenshots of new threats he has been receiving from unknown numbers. In one message the sender says he has a new incriminating video of Mirzali’s sister. In another, the sender claims there is new material about members of the opposition Popular Front Party that he will be sharing shortly. Yet in another message, the sender claims to have intimate videos of Kemale Beneniyarli, the chairman of the women’s council of the Popular Front Party. In the same message, the sender offers an alternative link to a Telegram channel in case the first channel is removed.

On March 14, AIW reported that Azerbaijani blogger, Mahammad Mirzali was stabbed in the city of Nantes, France. Mirzali, runs a YouTube channel, Made in Azerbaijan. On March 14, Mirzali was attacked by a group of men and was hospitalized after receiving multiple stab wounds. According to Reporters Without Borders, Mirzali underwent surgery that lasted more than six hours.   

On March 21, while recovering at the hospital, Mirzali received yet another message on WhatsApp from a man named Andres Gragmel, “This is the last warning. We can kill you without any problem. You’ve seen that we’re not afraid of anyone (…) If you continue to insult our sisters, we’ll have you killed with a bullet to the head fired by a sniper.” 

Reporters Without Borders is asking to place Mirzali under police protection following the most recent and previous attacks [Mirzali was shot at in October 2020 as he was getting into his car.]

Threat messages and endless calls via WhatsApp from unknown numbers [often US numbers] are not new. Scores of activists in Azerbaijan have complained about this before. And Azerbaijani activists are not the only ones targeted this way. 

In May 2019, WhatsApp discovered that attackers were able to install surveillance software on both iPhones and Android phones by ringing up targets using the app’s phone call function reported FT. The surveillance software is developed by Israeli NSO Group. It transmits a malicious code even if owners of mobile devices do not answer the calls. It can also remotely and covertly extract valuable intelligence from mobile devices, by sharing all phone activity including communications and location data with the attacker once the device is infected. “In the past, human rights campaigners in the Middle East have received text messages over WhatsApp that contained links that would download Pegasus to their phones,” reported FT in May 2019. 

In October 2019, BBC reported about Faustin Rukundo, a Rwandan exile who lives in the UK, receiving a call from an unknown number on WhatsApp. When Rukondo answered, the line was silent, after that the phone went dead, reported the BBC. In Rukundo’s case, the dialed number had a country code for Sweden. He kept receiving calls from the exact same number as well as other numbers on WhatsApp. Eventually, he figured something was wrong. Then researchers at Citizen Lab confirmed that Rukundo was indeed targeted with Pegasus. 

The same month, WhatsApp “confirmed that the exploit (a software or command that leverages a specific software vulnerability in order to execute some unwanted code on the vulnerable device) was deployed by the Israeli-based surveillance tool vendor NSO Group. The exploit could deliver intrusive spyware on the target’s mobile device without the targeted person having to click on a malicious link. The targeted person would simply see a missed call on WhatsApp,” reported Amnesty International.

According to Amnesty the way the spyware worked was: 

  • The security vulnerability in question was in the code that Whatsapp uses to establish a new voice or video call. In order to exploit this, the digital attack initiated WhatsApp calls to the target’s device.
  • Attackers may have tried to exploit this issue by making calls multiple times during the night when the target was likely to be asleep and not notice these calls.
  • Successful infection of the target’s device may result in the app crashing. There is a possibility that the attacker may also remotely erase evidence of these calls from the device’s call logs.
  • Evidence of failed attacks may appear as missed calls from unknown numbers in your WhatsApp call log.

In January 2020, Nagpur-based human rights lawyer Nihalsing Rathod who has been receiving strange calls via WhatsApp over the last two years from international numbers was informed that his phone was infected. Rathod, just like Rukundo, answered these calls, only to receive silence on the other end of the line. 

According to Access Now, since 2016, some 46 countries were identified where NSO Group’s Pegasus has been in use. “Reports from Access NowCitizen Lab, and others all show that an alarming number of people targeted using Pegasus have been journalists, lawyers, and activists, whose only crime was speaking out against and reporting on the injustices in their home countries.”

Whether the same technology is being used to target Azerbaijan acvtivists is yet to be investigated. Although Azerbaijan has acquired sophisticated surveillance technology over the years, Pegasus was not one of them, not from the available information. But the resemblance of the nature of these calls and the target group, raise concerns.