Why was Azerbaijani blogger sentenced to 2 years in prison?
Mehman Huseynov, a prominent Azerbaijani blogger, was sentenced to 2 years in prison for libel.
Mehman Aliyev, the head of Turan news agency, claims, Mehman Huseynov’s arrest and conviction are most like related to his recent video on which he surveyed people, asking the following question: ‘Would you appoint you wife as you deputy if you were holding a high post? He was referring to the recent appointment of Ilham Aliyev’s wife as Vice President. And this theme is an imprescriptible taboo in Azerbaijan.
Mehman Huseynov swiftly gained popularity some 6 years ago, when he started producing disclosing and oftentimes provocative videos. One of the first videos was taken near the Nizami cinema, in Baku center, where the policemen were hiding in the shadows in anticipation of a ‘catch’ – i.e. the rule-breakers, who run across the carriageway instead of using the underground crossings. Mehman was approaching pedestrians, requesting them not to violate the rules. A few minutes later, the police officers came to Mehman and chased him away, unaware that they were being recorded on video.
In parallel, Huseynov was a member of now-closed human rights organization – the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS). In summer 2014, when political arrests were at full swing, a search was conducted in the IRFS office: the equipment was seized and the premises were sealed off.
Mehman had been regularly arrested by the police before the incident, as well as afterwards. Whereas 2 years ago, his ID card was seized.
Moreover, Mehman is a brother of Emin Huseynov, a renowned human rights activist, who has emigrated from the country and who makes public statement abroad, sharply criticizing the Azerbaijani leadership.
Mehman has lived at his friends’ place over the past 1,5 years. On January 9, during his last arrest, he was battered and humiliated and all that was recorded on the cell phone. The next day he was taken to court and imposed a fine for ‘offering resistance to the police’ –a traditional wording for the present-day Azerbaijan.
When Mehman started talking about tortures and providing names, Musa Musayev, Nasimi district police chief, filed a lawsuit against the blogger, accusing him of libel. Whereas on March 3, Mehman was already sentenced to 2 years in prison and arrested right in the courtroom.
Elchin Sadygov, the lawyer, said it was the swiftest trial within his remembrance. There were numerous violations of the procedural norms, the court also refused to summon the arrest witnesses and consider the general prosecutor’s office refusal to probe into the torture case, as well as the forensic conclusion. And there was a forensic expertise, which recorded bruises and injuries. However, as the witnesses from the police department states, ‘he fell down himself’.
Elchin Sadygov, the lawyer, says: “The trial started at 12 o’clock and lasted just for an hour and a half, during which only the prosecutor’s accusatory pleading was made. Afterwards, the sentence was immediately passed. None of our claims were considered and we were not given time to prepare for the defense either. Although we didn’t expect such a quick ruling, Mehman comported himself courageously.”
On social media, where Mehman’s primary audience dwells, his arrest was taken with indignation; his photo appeared on dozens of avatars. Curiously enough, there was also another reaction. ‘He slandered many. I have no pity for him at all. It served him right,” writes certain Lyaman Askerova.
Condemnation of persecuted bloggers and journalists is a good tradition of the Azerbaijani social media. Moreover, the arguments here vary from full agreement with the prosecutor’s position to more sophisticated ones, like ‘he is seeking political asylum.’ As far as Mehman is concerned, in certain circles he was reffered to as ‘a pocket oppositionist to the authorities’, and ‘therefore he is still at large, despite all his provocations.’
Representatives of NGOs and political organizations, human rights activists and journalists, met at the head office of the Civic Solidarity Party the day after the arrest. About 90 people gathered there. The meeting participants discussed what to do next and how to help the blogger.
“We all knew that Mehman would be jailed sooner or later,” says Khadija Ismayil, a well-known investigative journalist, who was a political prisoner herself. “Today, our task is to demonstrate the whole inefficiency of this strategy. So, other journalists and bloggers should occupy Mehman’s place, while he is in prison. This is the best way to defend him and other political prisoners.”
Mehamn Huseynov is one of the popular and probably even the most popular blogger in the country. He has 104,000 Facebook followers and his videos are published on the Sancaq (pin) website. They are still ‘published’ because his website keeps functioning even after his arrest. But the question is, whether his followers’ video disclosures will be as popular as his ones.