editor of an online news site detained then released

On April 13, Zahir Amanov, editor of an online news site cenub.az was detained according to Azadliq Radio, Azerbaijan language service for Radio Liberty. 

Amanov, 70, is also the founder of the said website which covers regional news in southern Azerbaijan. 

According to reporting by Turan News Agency, Amanov was detained on charges of extortion by threat however, colleagues say the accusations are bogus and are related to his work exposing the extent of local and regional corruption at a government level. The case involves Israfil Aliyev, the head of a local administrative office in the village of Sygdash, Masalli region who claimed Amanov blackmailed him. “We have known Zair Amanov for 30 years, as the head of one of Azerbaijan’s leading regional media outlets and an experienced journalist. Therefore, the accusation of extorting money and arresting him red-handed seems implausible.  We have no doubt that the case has been fabricated and we will follow up on it,” said Arif Aliyev, director of the Baku Press Club in an interview with Turan. 

If convicted, Amanov is facing up to five years in jail. 

According to the latest updates, Amanov was released on April 15 while investigations into extortion continue. 

religious activist pressed with drug charges over criticism of the government online [Update May 20, 2022]

[Update] On May 20, 2022, the Baku Grave Crimes Court, sentenced Humbatov to six years in jail. The religious activist was found guilty of drug possession charges.

Razi Humbatov, a member of the 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 April 5, 2022]

[Update] Polad Aslanov was reportedly beaten by another inmate. The news were shared by Aslanov’s wife, who in protest stood outside the Penitentiary Service holding a sign, that read “End Torture,” reported Meydan TV. Speaking to Meydan TV, Gulmira Aslanova said the head of the penitentiary service confirmed the beating, adding that the prison inmate received punishment for his act. But Aslanova believes this was not an isolated case, and that the beating was premeditated. She demands an end to intimidation against Polad Aslanov. 

[Update] According to Turan News Agency, the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan ruled on February 24, to reduce the original sentence of 16 years handed to the journalist by the Baku Court of Appeal to 13 years in prison, “taking into account extenuating circumstances – the absence of a previous conviction, as well as his marital status, the presence of a minor child.” Aslanov’s lawyer said the defense will be taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

[Update] Meydan TV reports that Aslanov was transferred to a medical facility on January 24 on his 19th day of hunger strike due to health complications. 

[Update] According to OCMedia reporting, imprisoned journalist Aslanov, self-harmed himself on January 11 after his right to a weekly phone call was denied. After the incident, the journalist’s right was granted, Aslanov’s wife, Gulmira Aslanova told the media.  

[Update] On January 7, 2022, Aslanov declared he was going on a hunger strike according to reporting by Meydan TV. In an interview, Aslanov’s wife, Gulmira Aslanova, said, her husband wants the Supreme Court to finally review the appeal that the journalist’s lawyer submitted in February 2021, following the decision by the Baku Court of Appeal that upheld the original sentence that sentenced the journalist to 16 years. 

[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.