Dmitry Chulkov, an astronomer, spent 10 days in jail for unauthorized photographing
Dmitry Chulkov, a research fellow at the Institute of Astronomy of the Russian Academy of Science has returned to his homeland after a 10-day detention in Azerbaijan.
Chulkov arrived in Azerbaijan in early January. He took a direct flight from Moscow to Gyanja. Then he set off on a journey to study and photograph local landmarks, in particular Lake Göygöl. In 2008 the latter was declared as a nature reserve and national park and access to it was restricted.
Chulkov was soon spotted by guard officers who asked him to stop taking photos. According to the guards, the scientist refused to comply with their order. The officers confiscated Chulkov’s possessions and sent it to court. On 5 January, the court ordered a 10-day detention for Chulkov, referring to article 535 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
The Russian publication RIA Novosti cited the owner of a Gyanja-based hotel (where Chulkov stayed) saying that Chulkov had been arrested upon entering the protected area. Afterwards a group of state security officers came to the hotel. They asked the owner about the guest and seized the young man’s personal belongings.
Chulkov’s friend Konstantin Malanchev doubted that his friend would knowingly have trespassed into the restricted area. “He is a short and skinny guy and doesn’t usually jump over fences. He’s not an adventurer,” he said. According to him, the scientist could have entered the National Park in an area where other tourists had previously been detained. He noted that Chulkov might not have known that it was a restricted area.
“He probably hiked off the trail and was studying something with his binoculars. And because tensions are high between Azerbaijan and Armenia he was taken in by the military,” Malanchev suggested. He added that Chulkov had been offline and hadn’t answer phone calls since 6 January. According to Malanchev, the embassy had refused to register an appeal made by Chulkov’ family until some information on the matter leaked out to the mass media.
Shortly after the news was made public, Chulkov’s mother received a phone call from a man who introduced himself as an embassy employee. According to Malanchev, he asked her ‘not to make too much of a fuss and not to worry.’ She was told that Dmitry was ‘safe and sound’ and that he would ‘soon return to Russia’. The woman asked for confirmation. Shortly after that she received a phone call from an Azerbaijani number, and an unknown person handed the phone over to Chulkov.
“Dima said that he was detained, but that he was given food. He also stressed several times that he wasn’t beaten,” Malanchev reported. In his words, shortly before that Dmitry had visited Armenia and that ‘special services might not have liked that either’, reads an article on the Dozhd TV website.