religious activist pressed with drug charges over criticism of the government online

Razi Humbatov, a member of a religious movement “Muslim Unity” went missing on July 7. Two days later, his whereabouts were confirmed to Meydan TV, by a human rights organization “Defense Line” as well as Humbatov’s lawyer, Javad Javadov. According to the human rights organization spokesperson Rufat Safarov, and the lawyer, Humbatov was taken to the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ main department for Combating Organized Crime where he was charged with drug possession charges. 

Speaking to Meydan TV, Rufat Safarov from the “Defense Line” said, there were allegations of torture against the religious activist. 

Humbatov’s lawyer said he intends to file a number of complaints including violation of rights, and withholding of information on Humbatov’s whereabouts. 

The “Muslim Unity” said in a statement shared on Facebook that Humbatov is not a drug user, nor did he ever sell drugs. If anything, he actively engaged in anti-drug campaigns. The movement indicated that the real reason behind his detention is the critical posts of the government Humbatov often shared on his Facebook.

On July 8, Humbatov was sentenced to four months in pre-trial detention. In a hearing on July 14 at the Baku Court of Appeals, the judge ruled against Humbatov’s release. 

If convicted, Humbatov is facing up to 12 years in prison reported Meydan TV. 

A number of international watchdogs have reported about torture and prosecution of scores of “Muslim Unity” members, including the movement’s leader Tale Bagirzade who was sentenced to twenty years in 2017.

jailed journalist on hunger strike [updated]

[Update] According to Meydan TV, who spoke with Aslanov’s wife, the journalist is on a hunger strike in response to pressure against him at the prison facility. “The prison authorities believe that Polad Aslanov is influencing other inmates, and teaching them how to resist and protest. There was an inmate who went on a hunger strike in response to prison management demanding bribes in an exchange for the parcels delivered by family members. He was pressured to stop the hunger strike. He was placed in solitary confinement. As a result, he wrote a forced confession that no one asked him to pay for anything. And that he was punished not because of corruption but because he violated the rules of the prison. For days now the prison has been without water. They [the prison authorities] are implying that the reason there is no water is because of Polad Aslanov,” explained Gulmira Aslanova.  

[Update] On May 18, jailed journalist, Aslanov on hunger strike in protest to ill-treatment by the prison management confirmed Aslanov’s wife.  

[Update] On March 3, Polad Aslanov announced his decision to stop the hunger strike. Although the family members and Ombudsman office confirmed this decision, there is no further information on what caused Aslanov to make this decision.   

[Update] On March 1, jailed editor Polad Aslanov marked 29th day on hunger strike according to Aslanov’s wife. 

[Update] Following a visit by a representative from Red Cross on February 21, Polad Aslanov was placed in a separate cell under medical supervision on February 22, said Aslanov’s wife Gulmira Aslanova. He will remain in quarantine for the next 14 days during which time, no visitors will be allowed explained Aslanova. 

[Update] Aslanov’s wife, Gulmira Aslanova, told Turan News Agency, on February 16, that Aslanov remains on hunger strike.

[Update] On February 15, the Baku Court of Appeal dismissed Aslanov’s appeal, ruling to keep him behind bars.

Polad Aslanov, editor of the Xeberman news website has been on hunger strike since February 1. His wife Gulmira Aslanova told Caucasian Knot that her husband is complaining of kidney and stomach pains as a result of the hunger strike. 

Aslanov was arrested in 2019 and sentenced to 16 years in prison in November 2020 on bogus high treason charges. The State Security Service accused Aslanov of allegedly betraying his country by providing information to Iran. The journalist refutes the charges, saying he was arrested over his reporting on extortion by the members of the State Security Services of Azerbaijan. 

The journalist was additionally charged with Article 134 (threat to kill) of the Criminal Code. However, this accusation was dropped in court. 

Aslanov is the second journalist to have gone on a hunger strike in Azerbaijan. In addition to Aslanov, jailed journalist Afgan Sadigov marked the 95th day of the hunger strike on February 7.  This is Aslanov’s third hunger strike since his imprisonment. 

The Reporters Without Borders, issued a statement on February 9, calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to provide urgent medical assistance to Polad Aslanov.

At present, there are three journalists behind bars in Azerbaijan. They are Polad Aslanov, Afgan Sadigov,  and Elchin Ismayilli (seven-year sentence on extortion charges, editor and founder of news website Kend). 

Correction: Previous version of the article said four journalists were currently behind bars. But Ikram Rahimov editor of the news website Realliq and who was sentenced three-year sentence on extortion charges was released in September 2020.