Journalist abducted, threatened by military officers

New York, February 3, 2005—Akrep Hasanov, an Azerbaijani journalist with the independent weekly Monitor in the capital, Baku, was abducted by military officers and held in detention for five hours, Hasanov told CPJ. The journalist says he was detained in retaliation for writing an article about abuses and mismanagement in an Azerbaijani military unit.

On Tuesday, February 1, Hasanov received a phone call from a man who introduced himself as a teacher who had evidence of abuses in a Baku school. The man offered to meet Hasanov the next day at noon to talk and give him the documents. When Hasanov arrived at the appointment near a Baku subway station, two men in plainclothes grabbed him and took him by foot to the nearby military headquarters in Baku’s Old City, Hasanov told CPJ.

The officers held him in detention for five hours yesterday and forced him to write a statement acknowledging the falsity of a recent article he wrote criticizing the poor living conditions for soldiers in a military unit in the northwestern region of Goranboy. The article, which was published on January 29, 2004, outlined corruption by military commanders and psychological abuse of soldiers, as well as lack of food and heating and poor combat preparedness.

Military officers told Hasanov that if he did not sign the statement, they would detain him indefinitely. The officers also threatened to harm his mother and have his uncle fired from his job. Hasanov signed the statement and was released yesterday after five hours, he told CPJ.

Upon detention, officers took Hasanov’s cell phone, recorder, and tape, which contained interviews with soldiers at the Goranboy military unit. Officials returned the items after his release but had erased the contents of the tape, Hasanov said.

Hasanov told CPJ he is planning to report the abduction to the police and Prosecutor General’s Office on Friday.

Today, the Interior Ministry issued a press release denying Hasanov’s allegations and published his statement of apology. The press release said the journalist was invited to the military headquarters for a conversation in response to the “libelous and insulting military article.” In the process of the conversation, the release said, Hasanov admitted that the article was false and that he had never visited the Goranboy military unit.

Elmar Huseynov, Monitor‘s editor, told CPJ that civilians are never admitted to the heavily guarded military headquarters.

Monitor weekly has long suffered harassment from state authorities for its critical reporting and sharp commentaries.