Excellency Ilham Aliyev
Istiglaliyyat Street, 19
facsimile: + 99 412 492 35 43, 492 06 25
Dear President Aliyev,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is
deeply disturbed by the recent wave of journalist imprisonments in Azerbaijan.
With at least six journalists currently behind bars, Azerbaijan is now among
the top 10 global jailers of the press, ahead of Uzbekistan and just behind
Ethiopia, according to CPJ research. This crackdown comes in the run-up to
Eurovision, the international song contest that Baku is hosting in May, which
will gather journalists from more than 40 participating countries and fix the
world's eyes on Azerbaijan.
government has used significant resources to polish the country's image ahead
of the Eurovision contest and make it appealing to its international guests. However,
we believe your efforts would be meaningless if the government continues to
crack down on independent voices in the country. By implementing systematic
reform, and urging the relevant authorities to investigate potential abuses of
power, we believe you could stem the deterioration of press freedom in
to CPJ research, your government is holding in custody editor Avaz Zeynally and journalist
Aidyn Dzhaniyev of the independent daily Khural;
reporter Anar Bayramli and his driver,
Ramil Dadashev, from the Iranian broadcaster Sahar TV; editor Ramin Bayramov of
the Islamic news website Islam-Azeri;
and directors Zaur Guliyev and Vugar Gonagov of the regional TV channel Khayal.
We are attaching a more detailed list of the imprisoned journalists to this
journalists have been imprisoned on fabricated, politicized charges--ranging
from hooliganism and drug possession to incitement to mass disorder--that stemmed
from their work, CPJ research shows. Two of them have already been convicted and
are serving prison terms, while the others are jailed pending a trial,
according to CPJ sources.
President Aliyev, we call on you to exercise
the high authority of your office and instruct the relevant authorities to
investigate the cases of these journalists who languish in jail simply because
of their critical reporting. We urge you to uphold your declared commitment to
international press freedom standards and ensure the immediate and unconditional
release of these journalists.
you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.
Journalists imprisoned in Azerbaijan:
Dzhaniyev, a reporter for the independent daily Khural, was imprisoned in September
and sentenced to three years in jail on hooliganism charges after clerics in
Lenkoran, a city in southern Azerbaijan, accused him of breaking a mosque
window and insulting a woman, news reports said. The journalist denied the
accusations. An independent investigation by local journalists, cited by the
independent Azerbaijani news agency Turan, concluded that
Dzhaniyev's charges stemmed from his reporting on authorities' alleged
involvement in drug trafficking in Lenkoran.
After his appeal
was denied, Dzhaniyev requested a Supreme Court review of the case, which is
pending, Emin Huseynov, director of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters'
Freedom and Safety (IRFS) told CPJ.
- Avaz Zeynally, editor of Khural, was sentenced to three months in
jail on extortion charges in October, and in January, his term was extended for
another three months, according to news reports. The charges against him
stemmed from a criminal claim filed by a parliament member that alleged the
journalist tried to extort money from her. Zeynally denied the accusations and
said the official tried to bribe him in exchange for positive press coverage.
The woman left the country after filing the complaint against Zeynally and could
not be reached for comment by local journalists. Her words remain the sole
evidence against the editor, who awaits trial in Baku and faces up to 12 years
in jail if convicted.
imprisoned Ramin Bayramov, a reporter for the Islamic news website Islam-Azeri, last August and convicted him in March on
separate counts of illegal possession of drugs and weapons, the independent
regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel
reported. Bayramov denied the accusations in court, and said he was prosecuted
in retaliation for his journalism, Kavkazsky
Uzel said. Islam-Azeri has criticized
the government's repression of independent religious practitioners in
Azerbaijan. Although authorities initially charged Bayramov with activities
hostile to the country and "incitement to mass disorder," they failed to prove
the charges and amended them to drugs and weapons possession.
journalist told the Baku court repeatedly that the drugs and weapons were
planted in his garage, he was sentenced to 18 months in jail on March 7, Kavkazsky Uzel reported.
police detained Anar Bayramli, a reporter for
the Iranian broadcaster Sahar TV, on February 22 after questioning him about
his activities at work, press freedom groups reported. The police said they
found heroin in the journalist's jacket, which was hanging in the station while
he was being interrogated, Reuters reported. IRFS' Huseynov
told CPJ that police had repeatedly intimidated the journalist, summoning him
for regular "conversations" during which they pressured him to stop his
reporting on human rights abuses in Azerbaijan and quit the Iranian
driver, Ramil Dadashev, was jailed on similar charges the same day. Both men
face up to three years in prison if convicted.
arrested Zaur Guliyev and Vugar Gonagov, directors of the regional TV channel
Khayal, on March 13 and gave them two-month-long pretrial detention terms on
March 22. Both journalists were charged with organizing mass disorder, and
Guliyev was additionally charged with abuse of office, Kavkazsky Uzel reported. They were
accused of uploading a YouTube video that showed a local governor making
insulting comments to residents. The comments sparked protests and
unrest in the town in early March, and resulted in his ouster, according to
news reports. Authorities blamed the journalists for causing "mass unrest" by
uploading the video, and jailed them.
Gonagov were being held in a detention facility and were allowed to meet their lawyer
only once, according to Huseynov. On Friday, after meeting with investigators,
Gonagov suddenly requested a state-appointed lawyer instead of an independent one,
according to IRFS.
Gonagov faces up to three years in jail, while Guliyev could be imprisoned for
up to 10 years.