Director and editor-in-chief of a popular online publication arrested in Azerbaijan
Arrests at Abzas Media
Two employees of the independent online publication Abzas Media have been arrested in Azerbaijan over the past 24 hours, another has been detained and has not been heard from for the second day. The director and editor-in-chief of the publication, accused of smuggling, were sentenced to 4 months of pre-trial arrest.
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On 21 November, late in the evening, Abzas Media editor-in-chief Sevinj Vagifgizi and director Ulvi Hasanli were brought to court. A criminal case was opened against them under Article 206.3.3 (smuggling by a group of persons by prior conspiracy) of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.
Sevinj Vagifqizi and Ulvi Hasanli were sentenced to 4 months of preliminary arrest by the court’s decision.
Long before the start of the trial, the roads in this part of the city were blocked and passage in the direction of the court was restricted. Journalists and relatives of Sevinj Vagifgizi still managed to get to the building of the Court of Khatai district of Baku and waited for several hours for the beginning of the trial.
When the journalists were brought to the court, there was a scuffle between their colleagues and police officers in front of the building. As it was seen on live broadcasts from the scene, the police prevented the journalists from filming the detainees. One of the journalists was detained and removed from the area.
No one present – neither relatives nor journalists – was allowed into the courtroom.
Sevinj Vagifgizi was detained by police officers on 21 November early in the morning on her return to Azerbaijan right at the exit from the plane, without even passing passport control. The editor-in-chief of Abzas Media was taken to the main police department of Baku city. A few hours later she was brought to the flat where she lives to be searched.
According to her colleagues, who were able to see her when she entered the flat, she was abused by the police when she was detained. After that, the journalist informed her colleagues about feeling unwell and nauseous.
According to the journalist’s lawyer Elchin Sadigov, nothing illegal was found in the flat and nothing was seized.
The publication’s director, Ulvi Hasanli, was detained the day before the arrest of the editor-in-chief, in the early hours of 20 November. As Hasanli himself later told his lawyer, he had a business trip scheduled and as he was travelling to the airport,a car stopped in front of his taxi, men in civilian clothes forced him into the car, and in the car one of them hit him in the eye. The marks of the blow were visible on his face.
The journalist was brought to the Main Police Department of Baku city. As Ulvi Hasanli noted, he was also beaten there.
“I was asked why Abzas Media writes about corruption and does not write about victory in Karabakh? All the questions I was asked were related to the website’s activities,” Hasanli said in an audio recording made by his lawyer, Zibeyda Sadigova.
Then searches were conducted in Abzas Media’s editorial office, and in Hasanli’s flat. Nothing was found in the flat, but in the office the police found and seized money in the amount of 40 thousand euros.
Hasanli himself and editor-in-chief Sevinj Vagifqizi said the money was planted in their editorial office by the police and that they knew nothing about it.
After the search, the door lock of the rented flat where the editorial office was located was changed and the journalists can no longer continue working in their office.
Around the same time, Mahammad Kekalov, a public activist and employee of Abzas Media, was forcibly taken from his flat by people in civilian clothes. As noted by the parents of the young activist, these people did not introduce themselves and did not say where they were taking him.
His lawyer and relatives have been looking for him for two days, but there is no news about him.
“I appealed to the Interior Ministry and said that for more than a day I can’t get information about my client, social activist Mahammad Kekalov. We are in constant contact with the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Azerbaijan, an employee of the Ombudsman’s office. Unfortunately, there is still no information about Mahammad Kekalov,” said lawyer Rovshana Rahimli.
Kekalov’s family and friends fear that he was tortured to obtain incriminating testimony.