Journalist and lawyer arrested in Baku
Journalist and his lawyer arrested
The number one topic on Azerbaijani social networks for the third day going is the arrest of journalist Avaz Zeynalov and his lawyer Elchin Sadigov. The court handed down its verdict in the case on Sunday morning. The Prosecutor General’s Office issued a statement that an investigation is underway into large-scale bribery by an official. According to lawyer Samad Rahimli, several procedural norms have were violated.
- Men don’t cry? – Stories of male victims of domestic violence in Azerbaijan
- How long the war in Ukraine might go on, how many victims, how it may end for Russia
- USAID: a Georgian oligarch is seizing control of the state
On Sunday morning at about 4:30 a.m. the Binagadi District Court of Baku City sentenced Avaz Zeynalov, a journalist and head of the Xural TV YouTube channel, and his lawyer, a well-known defender political prisoner rights, Elchin Sadigov, to four months in prison while the investigation is underway. According to media reports, the arrested were placed in an isolation ward by the State Security Service of Azerbaijan.
Last week the well-known pro-government Azerbaijani website haqqin.az published an audio recording of a telephone conversation between journalist Avaz Zeynalov and allegedy the son of the previously arrested businessman Rasim Mammadov. In the conversation, Zeynalov talks about the return of something received from the Mammadov, but what is not specified.
According to Eynulla Fatullayev, editor-in-chief of the haqqin.az website, it concerns 20,000 manats [about $12,000] that Rasim Mammadov’s son gave to a journalist for his father’s PR on his channel. But the son of the arrested businessman was dissatisfied with the fact that Avaz Zeynalov did not protect his father properly. It is also alleged that lawyer Elchin Sadigov took the money from the businessman’s son to pay the journalist.
House and office searches
On Saturday, September 10, law enforcement agencies searched the homes and offices of journalist Avaz Zeynalov and lawyer Elchin Sadigov.
Both were brought to the Prosecutor General’s Office after the search.
Closer to midnight, it became known that the accused would appear before the court.
Verdict announced in the morning
The same night, a court session was held in the Binagadi District Court of Baku involing the journalist and his lawyer.
The court, having satisfied the submission of the Investigation Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan, chose a preventative measure of four months’ arrest against Zeynalov. Sadigov was also sentenced to the same period.
Zeynalov is charged under Art. 311.3.3 (receiving a bribe on a large scale) of the Criminal Code, and Sadigov under Art. 32.5, 311 (assistance in receiving a bribe).
According to their lawyers, the prosecutor’s office launched a criminal prosecution against the journalist and his lawyer based on media reports, and there is no specific complainant in the case.
Sadigov and Zeynalov deny the accusations and link the criminal prosecution to their professional activities.
Both refused to testify to the investigation, calling the criminal case fabricated. They intend to appeal the verdict.
Interestingly, the verdict of the court was announced at about 4:30 am on Sunday morning. Activists and friends of the defendants waited all night in front of the courthouse for the verdict.
Statement of the Prosecutor General’s Office
“Due to the fact that in the course of the investigation conducted on the basis of information in the media and the appeal received, there were reasonable suspicions that an official had received a bribe on a large scale, and an investigation was launched in the Investigation Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Azerbaijan under Article 311.3 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan,” the press service of the supervisory authority said.
“General Director of Xural Yayınları LLC Avaz Zeynalov, in exchange for non-dissemination of offensive information and preparation of a broadcast to form a positive image of the former Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Baku Steel Company Rasim Mammadov, whose criminal proceedings are ongoing in the Baku Grave Crimes Court, in August 2022, through the mediation of his lawyer Elchin Sadigov, received 20,000 manats as a bribe from R. Mammadov’s relatives.
“Based on preliminary evidence, A. Zeynalov was brought to the investigation under Article 311.3.3, and E. Sadigov under Articles 32.5, 311.3.3 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan. By a court decision, a measure of restraint in the form of arrest was placed on them.
“The General Prosecutor’s Office of Azerbaijan also reports that the necessary investigative and operational measures for a full, comprehensive and objective investigation of all the circumstances of legal significance in the criminal case are ongoing.
“We bring to the attention of media representatives, as well as users of social networks, that the dissemination of information not specified by official sources regarding the criminal case under investigation is prohibited and entails liability established by law.
“The public will be provided with additional information on the progress of the investigation,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement.
According to lawyer Samed Rahimli, even if the “questions” voiced in the audio recording are confirmed, there is no corpus delicti for which the journalist and lawyer are accused:
“A journalist (editor) has the right to elevate someone, or PR for money, and this does not constitute a corpus delicti under Article 311 (bribery) of the Criminal Code. Since the news prepared by a journalist (editor) does not create legal consequences for other persons, i.e. this is not an activity that creates, changes, or liquidates legal relations, here a journalist (editor) cannot be considered an official.
“To form a corpus delicti under Article 311, it is required that the subject of the crime be an official. So there is no crime here. And if there is no composition in relation to a journalist, then there is none in relation to a lawyer.
“Secondly, if the investigation has “other evidence”, the legality of this evidence is already debatable (i.e. they were distributed by journalist Eynulla Fatullayev). Thus the use of this evidence would in itself be a violation of the right to a fair trial.
“Thirdly, there is no problem that a lawyer involved in cases of human rights violations goes to cases not related to human rights, including the defense of persons accused of corruption. Otherwise, any lawyer can be stigmatized by the fact that they defended such and such a criminal. Among other items, according to paragraph 18 of the Bangkok principles adopted in 1990, a lawyer cannot be associated with the case of their client.
“Fourthly, as part of this case, searches were carried out at the lawyer’s home and office. These searches are already a procedural violation. Under ECtHR standards, a lawyer’s office may be searched under more stringent standards of scrutiny. At first glance, these standards are violated here. This case in itself can become a reason for protest in connection with the attitude of the state towards the profession and the activities of lawyers.”
Journalist and his lawyer arrested