Journalist from an online TV channel beaten

On September 28, Avaz Hafizli, a journalist from an online news platform Kanal13 was harassed and beaten by the local security guards while covering the opening of a new restaurant in the capital of Baku. 

Hafizli, arrived at the opening of Deyirman restaurant but was quickly stopped by the security guards. According to reporting by Turan News Agency, Hafizli asked the security guards to confirm whether the newly opened restaurant indeed belonged to the head of Yasamal administrative district, a government official and why ordinary citizens were not allowed in   

Hafizli was live-streaming the encounter but the stream ended abruptly after the security guard resorted to violence. 

The journalist told Turan News Agency that he was taken inside the garden of the restaurant where after guards’ attempt to bribe him, the exchange turned violent. 

Hafizli called for help and managed to call the police. At the police station, the two sides wrote their individual statements but even there, Hafizli told Turan News Agency the restaurant representative kept threatening the journalist. 

The following day, Hafizli went to a hospital where after a medical check-up he was told that his arm was broken. 

The journalist complained to the Ministry of the Interior asking for an investigation and due punishment in the case of the perpetrators of the attack and the subsequent injury. 

Kanal 13 is an online video news platform broadcasting from its YouTube channel to its close to a million subscribers. The channel was created in 2008. 

In 2014, Kanal 13 was subject to a government launched an investigation that was targeting all independent, international, and opposition civil society organizations, including organizations as IREX and Kanal 13. At the time, the manager and founder of the channel Anar Orucov (brother of Aziz Orucov) were in charge of the office and the channel.

As part of the country-wide crackdown, Kanal 13 office was searched, documents confiscated. Fearing persecution, Anar Orucov fled the country with his family with the support of an international organization while Aziz Orucov stayed behind to continue managing the channel and the projects.

Kanal 13 has also been subject to online attacks. In March of 2017, a report released by Amnesty International, “False Friends- how fake accounts and crude malware targeted dissidents in Azerbaijan” detailed how Kanal 13 was among those targeted when its internal communications were accessed for over a week.

Two months later, the channel’s director Aziz Orucov was detained and later rearrested while the office of the channel was searched and equipment was confiscated.

On February 11, 2020, a suspended sentence against Aziz Orucov, editor of the platform, was dropped by the Baku Court of Appeal.

Orucov was arrested during the criminal investigations against non-governmental organizations in Azerbaijan. He was arrested in 2017, but released in 2018 on a suspended sentence. The sentence was until February 2021.

Orucov took over the managing of the platform after his brother Anar Orucov fled the country in 2014 amid threats of persecution.

The platform’s website kanal13.tv is on the list of blocked websites according to the most recent OONI measurements. 

Earlier in September Hafizli reportedly chained himself to the gate of the Prosecutor General’s Office. The action was taken in protest of government inaction against homophobic incitement by blogger Sevinj Huseynova, whose recent videos in which the blogger openly calls for violence against trans community members have gone viral. Hafizli who is a member of the LGBTQI+ community in Azerbaijan attempted suicide on September 5 as a result of Huseynova’s videos. 

how to silence corruption: the tale of one citizen journalist and a government that does not want people to know the truth

The tale of corruption in Azerbaijan is no news to anyone familiar with the country’s history of money laundering, slush funds, and other fraudulent misconduct. From countless investigations, such as Caviar Diplomacy, Azerbaijani Laundromat and Panama Papers, and most recently OCCRP report about massive weapons deal with Congo-Brazzaville, the extent of involvement of key leadership figures of Azerbaijan in numerous financial schemes, deals, and investments, is astonishing. For years, the journalists who have been involved in these investigations have been and continue to be targeted. The most recent target is Mehman Huseynov, 28, a popular citizen journalist, and editor-in-chief of the SANCAQ, a socio-political magazine, which documents extensive corrupt practices and violations of human rights in Azerbaijan. Huseynov, shares his findings in short videos, explained in simple language, often with a touch of humor.

In 2017, shortly after President Ilham Aliyev, appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva as the First Vice President, Huseynov did a short video, asking male residents of Baku, whether they would appoint their wives as first secretaries if they were heads of companies. Huseynov was arrested the following day and later ended up serving a two-year prison term on charges of slander. Some speculated this satirical video was the real cause behind the journalist’s arrest. 

Ahead of his release from jail in 2019, the authorities attempted at keeping him behind bars, albeit unsuccessfully, and Huseynov was released. 

This is not the first time Huseynov was persecuted for his activities. He was questioned by the police countless times, threatened, intimidated, placed under a travel ban for five years, his personal documents were confiscated. The Human Rights House Foundation has documented in detail the reprisals against Huseynov in recent years. 

Realising, physical surveillance, and intimidation were not enough, Huseynov’s Sancaq TV became a target.

Hacking alert: Instagram

Due to the popularity of his channel [Sancaq TV has a large following on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube], there have been numerous attempts to break-in into Sancaq TV’s social media accounts. Huseynov was able to keep his accounts secure until he took time off from social media ahead of a medical operation after being diagnosed with cancer. The treatment and the operation were successful. It was time, for Huseynov to slowly pick up on where he left off.

Little did he know, that one of Sancaq TV’s social media accounts was compromised. “Unfortunately, government officials took advantage of my illness and in my absence hacked Sancaq TV’s Instagram account.  They sent fake messages on behalf of Instagram to my Azerbaijani mobile number and gained access,” explained Huseynov in his recollections to AIW.  

Months after Huseynov reported about the interception, it was possible to restore access to Sancaq TV’s Instagram account. 

Hacking alert: Facebook 

Since his recovery from cancer, Huseynov returned to Azerbaijan, from where he continued working on investigations into government corruption. Sancaq TV has featured some 13 separate investigations since then.

These investigations however have once again triggered perpetrators to silence Huseynov by taking over Sancaq TV’s Facebook page. While they have been unsuccessful in hacking the page, several fake Facebook pages called Sancaq TV have been created. The “owners” of these accounts are using these pages to report the original Sancaq TV Facebook page in an attempt to take it down on the grounds, that it is fake. Sancaq TV’s most recent expose explores a man named Gorxmaz Huseynov, the head of Azerbaijan Water Supply company, whose personal wealth is measured in multimillion-dollar businesses, from hospitals to tourism companies with zero accountability and transparency. 

So far, Huseynov remains defiant in his fight against corruption in Azerbaijan but so do the perpetrators behind the digital persecution campaign. Sancaq TV’s social media accounts can be accessed on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube

Activist’s YouTube channel down

On December 5, Shakir Zade, Azerbaijani activist living abroad, reported his YouTube channel was taken down by the platform following takedown requests made by Milli TV, Qanun TV and AnTV.

Following the incident, it was possible to identify that Milli TV and Qanun TV were working together, however, since the incident, it has been not possible to locate the admins of either of the YouTube channels or the Milli TV YouTube channel.

On December 10, it was still possible to see, two email addresses that were connected to each of the YouTube channels – chikogame40@gmail.com (Qanun TV) and efs9797@mail.ru (Milli TV). However, since Zade’s channel was restored, this information appears to be missing, as well as any traces of Milli TV on YouTube. The following message appears when using the previous link associated with Milli TV.

Zade also said, he was reached out by the admin of AnTV who informed Zade, his personal account was hacked during the reporting and that it was not the original owner of the channel who reported Zade’s YouTube channel.

This is not the first time, YouTube accounts, Facebook accounts, or Instagram accounts have been taken down by the companies following “takedown requests” by contentious users in Azerbaijan.

Update: December 19, 2019

Shakir Zade’s YouTube account was once again reportedly taken down by the YouTube platform after a series of “copyright violation” reports sent in by AnTV and Qafqaz News accounts.

The alleged victim who claims the videos were a copyright violation is registered at samxalceferli94@gmail.com and samxalofficial194@gmail.com. administers AnTV and Qafqaz News.

Update: January 3, 2020

YouTube once again has closed down Shakir Zade’s YouTube channel, on what seems like yet another false copyright violation report.

This time, Milli TV appeared to have a new email: alihasanov.gov.az@gmail.com. Ali Hasanov is a former aid to the president. He was known prior to his dismissal as the man behind media censorship in Azerbaijan. He was dismissed on November 30, 2019 as part of alleged reforms introduced by the president Ilham Aliyev.