anews.az editor sentenced to three and a half years [updated March 20]

[Updated] According to Azadliq Radio, Gambarov’s sentence was commuted on March 19 replacing the original sentence of 3.5 years with 1 year and 2 months of restricted freedom taking into account that Gambarov already served five months behind bars. The journalist will have to be home from 11 pm until 7 am. The charges were replaced from Article 221.3 (hooliganism committed with the use of a weapon or subjects)  of the Criminal Code to Article 221.2.2 (hooliganism committed with resistance to representative of the authority).  

February 28, regional editor for online news site anews.az Zaur Gambarov was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on alleged hooliganism charges reports Meydan TV. 

Gambarov is accused of throwing a chair at the Deputy Director of the State Social Protection Fund Gadabay Branch and beating his driver. Editor’s family members claim, the allegations are bogus and that Gambarov himself was beaten and later framed. 

“If the hearing was just, the court could have demanded the camera footage but they chose not to,” said Gambarov’s brother in an interview with Meydan TV. 

Gambarov in his defense said the reason for his arrest and sentence were his stories about corruption among government employees in Gadabay. Specifically, Gambarov points to a report he wrote about a relative of the head of the Gadabay’s City Administration which, according to Gambarov was the final straw that triggered the arrest. According to that story, the State Social Protection Fund employed a relative of the head of the Gadabay City Administration but that the relative never went to work at the Fund. 

In recent months, at least two website editors and journalists were sentenced to lengthy jail times – Polad Aslanov, and Afgan Sadigov. Both journalists have since been on hunger strike. 

political activist’s partner harassed online [Last update June 17]

June 17, Amina Rustamzade, wife of activist Ilkin Rustmazade attempted suicide after numerous posts violating her right to privacy [see below]. Rustamzade overdosed herself with sleeping pills. She was taken immediately to a clinical center where doctors were able to stabilize her condition. While her condition is stable, the perpetrator behind the harassment against Amina remains at large. Ilkin Rustamzade wrote on his Facebook, that his wife, received yet another message from the same user with the message “If Ilkin is not silent, then what happened earlier will happen again.”

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Ilkin Rustamzade is a former political prisoner and activist who spent six years in jail on bogus charges. He was arrested in May 2013 on alleged hooliganism charges. Additional charges – inciting violence and organizing mass disorder in connection with a peaceful protest in 2013 – were added during his pre-trial detention period. Rustamzade was sentenced to eight years in jail in 2014. He was recognized “prisoner of conscience” by International rights watchdog Amnesty International.

Authorities released Rustamzade in March 2019 following a presidential pardon decree. But threats and harassment against him continue.

On April 7, Rustamzade was contacted by this profile on Facebook. The person behind the profile introduced himself as an officer working for the Special Security Services in Azerbaijan. In the brief exchange this person had with Rustamzade, he kept removing all of the messages after they were sent. As a result, there are few screenshots that actually contain any evidence of this person threatening Rustamzade.

In one message, the user tells Rustamzade to stop the campaign the activist started on change.org. The campaign calls on the Azerbaijan authorities to allocate funds for families who have been affected by the global pandemic that has also reached Azerbaijan. When Rustamzade refused to remove the campaign, that is when the person threatened Rustamzade to humiliate him and his family.

Shortly after, a Facebook page (that has now been successfully removed) was set up, with intimate pictures of Rustamzade’s wife Amina Rustamzade and posts using humiliating language.

On April 8, a new Facebook page was set up with similar content. There is also, an Instagram post, that was shared by this account on the social media platform. In addition, his fiance’s profile appears to have been added to an escort website with personal information including phone numbers.

Also on April 8, Rustamzade’s father, Bakir Khalilov was taken by the police when they could not locate Ilkin Rustamzade at his family home. When Rustamzade called to speak with his father, the police interrupted the conversation, took the phone away from the father and told Rustamzade unless he comes to the station, his father will be arrested. When police showed up at his father’s house, they claimed Rustamzade violated quarantine laws by leaving the house without informing the law enforcement. This is a new regulation that was introduced on April 5. Rustamzade moved out on April 2. Three days before the regulation was set in place.

Meanwhile, Rustamzade’s father falls into a threatened group category due to his age and health condition. He just recently had heart surgery.

Although his father has been released since then, Rustamzade is concerned both his father, and himself could be arrested and that threats against his family will continue.

Journalist Khadija Ismayilova wrote her on Facebook that “Police clearly is eager to use these SMS restrictions to harass activists.”