CPJ urges president to halt persecution of reporter, family

September 27, 2007

His Excellency Ilham Aliyev
President of Azerbaijan
19 Istiqlaliyyat Street
Baku 370066, Azerbaijan  

Via facsimile: +994-12-920-625 and +994-12-492-0625

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply disturbed by the seizure, beating, and imprisonment of Hakimeldostu Mehdiyev, regional correspondent for the opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat, by officials in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic last weekend. These unlawful actions, along with the persecution of his family, come on the heels of Mehdiyev’s critical reporting on social issues and human rights abuses in the republic.

In articles for the Baku-based Yeni Musavat, Mehdiyev had criticized Nakhchivan authorities for recent gas and electricity shortages in the republic. He had also written on corruption and human rights abuses by local officials. The week before the attack, Mehdiyev discussed the region’s social and political problems in an interview on Azadliq Radio, the Azeri service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. While Nakhchivan has autonomous status in certain matters, the harassment of this journalist and his family fall under your government’s jurisdiction.

On Saturday, several National Security Service (MNB) agents forced Mehdiyev into a sedan, took him to local headquarters in the village of Jalilkand in the Sharur district of Nakhchivan, beat him, and warned him to stop his critical reporting, Mustafa Gadzhibeili, Yeni Musavat editor-in-chief, told CPJ. MNB agents held Mehdiyev for seven hours before releasing him with instructions not to report the incident, Gadzhibeili said. A hobbling Mehdiyev later informed his newspaper and scheduled a medical appointment for Monday, according to local press reports and CPJ sources.

Police raided Mehdiyev’s home on Sunday and arrested him on charges of disobedience to law enforcement, local press reports said. That same day, though Mehdiyev had no defense lawyer, Sharur District Court Judge Gabil Mamedov sentenced the journalist to 15 days in jail, according to Emin Huseynov, director of the Baku-based Institute for Reporter’s Freedom and Safety. He was imprisoned immediately in Nakhchivan’s Boyuk Duz prison, where authorities refused to allow visitation rights to his family, Huseynov said. Mehdiyev was freed today without explanation, Gadzhibeili said.

In an interview with CPJ, Gadzhibeili said he believes the harassment and arrest were related to Mehdiyev’s journalism. Gadzhibeili told CPJ that official harassment makes it impossible for the independent press to function in Nakhchivan. Huseynov told CPJ that “independent journalists and human rights activists are not welcome” in Nakhchivan, and that police and National Security Service agents use intimidation and harassment against the press.

Huseynov told CPJ that two of Mehdiyev’s brothers saw their family businesses closed by local authorities immediately after the journalist was arrested. Today, local authorities leveled the family-owned teahouse and store in Jalilkand, leaving the Mehdiyev family without income, Rauf Arifoglu of Yeni Musavat told CPJ. IRFS and Yeni Musavatcorrespondents visited Jalilkand and witnessed the demolition. Mehdiyev’s house has been placed under police surveillance and his family’s phones have been tapped, Huseynov told CPJ.

As an independent, nonpartisan advocacy group that defends journalists’ right to report the news without fear of reprisal, we are appalled by these actions against Hakimeldostu Mehdiyev and his family. We urge you to direct Prosecutor-General Zakir Qaralov to conduct a thorough and expedited review of these unlawful actions. We also call on you to address the persecution of Mehdiyev’s family with Vasif Talibov, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, and ask for his full cooperation in halting it immediately.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.

Joel Simon
Executive Director