editor of two websites appears in court

According to local media reports, SalamNews and InterAz founder and editor Matlab Baghirov appeared in court on February 27, 2024. He has been in pretrial detention since January 31, 2023.

According to pro-government media, Baghirov was accused of operating an Iranian spy network. The Ministry of the Interior confirmed these allegations in an interview with Abzas Media in February 2023, saying the arrests were part of the “special operation against an Iranian spy network.”

“They carried out propaganda in favor of Iran through social networks, abused the freedom of religion in Azerbaijan, and carried out the tasks of the Iranian special services in order to undermine the traditions of tolerance formed in the country,” Elshad Hajiyev, the head of the ministry’s public relations department, told AbzasMedia in February 2023. 

In total, some 39 individuals were rounded up, including Baghirov, as a result of the operation. 

The Ministry of the Interior also said the group was engaged in acts of provocation and disruption under the guise of religion. 

The arrests took place at a time, when relations between Iran and Azerbaijan were at their lowest following an armed attack on an Azerbaijani embassy in the capital of Iran on January 27, 2023. As a result, one embassy security personnel was killed and two others were injured. 

Azerbaijan described the attack as a terrorist act and issued a warning to Azerbaijani nationals not to travel to Iran unless necessary. 

The investigation against Baghirov was finalized on February 20, 2024. 

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.