“Freedom of speech” in Azerbaijan
Changes in the Mass Media
President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, suggested introducing amendments to the Mass Media Law. The year 2015 began with implementation of those amendments. The decision was simple: a media structure, that has been made liable twice under the court ruling within a year, shall suspend its activity.
The first political prisoner
In January, Elvin Abdullayev, a member of the youth committee of the Azerbaijani People’s Front party, faced charges under the articles, envisaging drug-related criminal liability. On May 1, he was sentenced to 6-year imprisonment. Elvin claimed, he had been arrested because of the active position, he had expressed in Facebook social network. Namely, for his sharp statements addressed to the government.
Khadija Ismail’s awards
On February 13, 2015, Khadija Ismail, a journalist, arrested in December last year on suspicion of suicide incitement, faced additional charges under the following articles: “embezzlement, “tax evasion, “powers abuse, “and illegal entrepreneurship.
On September 1, Khadija Ismail was sentenced to 7, 5 years in prison.
Swedish National Press Club’s 2015 Freedom of Speech award in memory of Anna Politkovskaya, Barbara Goldsmith/PEN American Center’s prestigious Freedom to Write Award, as well as Alison Des Forges Human Rights Watch Award are just some of the awards Khadija Ismail was honored with while serving her term of imprisonment.
Radio Liberty and Meydan TV at gunpoint
On September 28, Islam Shikhali, a reporter cooperating with the Radio Liberty, was interrogated in the Main Investigation Department on Grave Crimes of the Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office. He said, he had been interrogated as part of the investigation into Meydan TV case. On September 26, the law-enforcers conducted a search in Aslam Shikhali’s rented apartment.
In 2015, Meydan TV turned out to be among the structures, that were exerted pressure in connection with the freedom of speech. On July 23, Nazim Agabekov, a brother-in-law of Meydan TV director, Emin Milli, was accused of drug trade. Milli said the case was a political order and was linked to his activity in Meydan TV.
The same scenario was applied to Gunel Movlud, Meydan TV employee.
Her two brothers – Radji and Vekil Imanov were detained by the police on October 13. Marihuana was reportedly withdrawn during their search. The brothers were sentenced to 3 months in prison.
Gunel Movlud also stated that her brothers’ arrest was linked to her activity in the Meydan TV.
Aytaj Akhmedova was detained while walking in the street. Some days later, journalists Sevinj Vagifgyzy, Ayten Farkhadova and Izolda Agayeva, were detained upon their return from Kyiv by the Baku Airport Border Service officers. They were taken to the Main Organized Crime Department and questioned about Meydan TV activity, though they had been summoned as witnesses to give testimony in connection with Mingecevir developments. The journalists were released by the morning.
Shirin Abbasov, another employee of Meydan TV, disappeared on September 16.
Though Deputy Spokesperson of the Interior Ministry stated he had no information on him, it turned out later that the journalist had been detained by the Main Organized Crime Department for ‘extortion through intimidation’. Later, there came reports that the journalist had been sentenced to 30-day administrative arrest for offering resistance to the police.
Leyla and Arif Yunus
On August 13, Baku Court on Grave Crimes brought a verdict to Leyla and Arif Yunus, sentencing them to 8,5 year and 7 year imprisonment, respectively.
On November 12, Arif Yunus was released due to health problem under written undertaking not to leave. Having been released, he told journalists that Leyla Yunus was beaten every day and was kept in unbearable conditions. He reiterated his statement that his arrest and release were a political order, connected with Leyla Yunus’s human rights activity.
On December 9, Baku Court of Appeal ruled out a conditional release to human rights activist, Leyla Yunus and released her on parole for eight years and six months, including five year probation period. Leyla Yunus was charged for “
high treason, “tax evasion, “swindle, “illegal entrepreneurship.
The year 2015 will be memorized by the death of Rasim Aliyev, a journalist, who was beaten to death. On August 8, he was beaten by the relatives of Javid Huseynov, a football player. Rasim Aliyev died in the hospital as a result of internal hemorrhage. Javid Huseynov was arrested. The journalist’s colleagues claimed, doctors “played no less decisive role in Aliyev’s death than the football player.
They demanded healthcare system officials to be involved in the investigation. According to one of the versions, the journalist was beaten after criticizing Javid Huseynov in the Facebook.
A public group, including journalists and human rights activists, has been recently set up to investigate Rasim Aliyev’s case. They fear, the culprits may avoid liability.
On July 22, Azerbaijan marked the 140th anniversary of the national press. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) noted in its 2015 report that most media structures in Azerbaijan were “either government-owned or pro-governmental. Due to Azerbaijan’s failure to pass the law on libel, mute of satellite channel signals and arrest of journalists, it has been included in the list of five countries, where the censorship reigns.