A confession from journalist Elmaddin Shamilzadeh about the forced removal of social media posts under duress is a testament to persistent violence and intimidation used in Azerbaijan against civic groups. According to the reporting by Voice of America, Shamilzadeh was severely beaten by law enforcement during his detention last month. After the journalist agreed to remove all his social media posts on Facebook where he was critical of the police violence he was finally let go.
Shamilzadeh was filming protests in the village of Soyudlu. He was also able to take photographs of several police officers who used disproportionate force against village residents which were then published by Mikroskop Media.
Once the photographs were out, the journalist received a call from the state service for mobilization and conscription. The same day, he was taken from the courtyard of his home by two plain-clothed men. When the journalist tried using his phone, the two men grabbed his phone and taken to a local police station.
At the station police demanded Shamilzadeh to share the phone password which he refused to do. “When I said that I would not give them my password, one of the policemen punched me in the face,” the journalist recalled in an interview with Voice of America Azerbaijan Service. The beating continued despite the journalist’s requests to stop. “When I told them not to hit me in the face, they started cursing. From the blows, I fell to the floor.” The journalist was beaten by at least three officers. The violence was recorded by another officer in the room.
The physical violence forced the journalist to agree to remove all of the posts on Facebook about the police involved in the protest. Shamilzadeh used the opportunity when handed the phone back and posted “Torture” on his profile. Now, his friends and colleagues knew he was missing. According to the journalist, this also prevented the police from using further violence against him.
Instead of force, finally, the police started talking to the journalist. “They said that I can delete my posts myself. Then they will let me go. I thought it might be true, I picked up the phone and deleted the post with the word ‘torture’ and other posts about the police.”
But it did not stop there. After keeping the journalist for about an hour in some dark room, they brought him back to the officer of the operative who then threatened Shamilzadeh with rape.
The journalist caved and gave away his phone password. “When I handed over my phone the battery was almost fully charged, after two hours, when they finally returned my phone, the device was almost out of power. I don’t know what they did with my phone during those two hours,” said the journalist.
Shamilzadeh was also forced to sign a letter of confession where he apologized for his actions and vowed not to repeat the same mistakes. He was released afterward.