Jailed journalist dies in Azerbaijan prison

New York, August 18, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for an independent investigation into the death on Monday in a Baku prison hospital of Novruzali Mamedov, editor of the now-defunct minority newspaper Talyshi Sado, who had been in state custody since February 2007. 

According to Azerbaijani Penitentiary Service spokesman Mekhman Sadygov, the journalist appears to have suffered a stroke. Results from an official autopsy have not yet been released, the Azeri Press Agency reported.

“We are deeply disturbed by reports that Novruzali Mamedov was not given adequate medical care in prison, which may have contributed to his death,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on Azerbaijani authorities to make the results of the autopsy public immediately.”

Mamedov’s health severely deteriorated in the past few months, his lawyer, Ramiz Mamedov (no relationship to the journalist), told CPJ. He was admitted to a hospital in the Azerbaijani Penitentiary Service on July 28. Last Saturday, the editor told his lawyer that the medical treatment he was receiving was inadequate and his health was not improving. According to his lawyer, Mamedov, 68, suffered from a number of illnesses, including hypertension, bronchitis, neuritis, and a prostate tumor.

According to news reports, authorities refused to release Mamedov on humanitarian grounds and did not allow him to receive independent medical treatment. Earlier this month, the Council of Europe’s representative to Azerbaijan, Veronika Kotek, and Azerbaijani Ombudsman Elmira Suleymanova urged Azeri authorities to transfer Mamedov to a civilian hospital, the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) reported.

Another spokesman for the Penitentiary Service, Mekhman Aliyev, said Mamedov was happy with the treatment he was receiving at the prison hospital and had refused a transfer to an outside medical facility, the independent news Web site Lenta reported. He did not clarify whether he had discussed a possible transfer with the journalist.

Aliyev’s statement contradicts testimony by Mamedov’s colleagues and supporters. According to Emin Huseynov, IRFS director, prison authorities refused to fulfill a local court’s ruling earlier this year that had ordered the Penitentiary Service to provide medical treatment to Mamedov starting in March. Huseynov said Azerbaijani authorities refused to allow independent medical treatment offered by a European Union delegation that visited Mamedov in prison in June. Mamedov’s brother told Huseynov that prison authorities returned half of the prescription medications that his family had tried to pass to him in prison.

Huseynov said he did not notice any bruises or other marks on Mamedov’s body at the funeral today that would suggest a violent death, but said the journalist had lost a lot of weight and was unrecognizable.

Mamedov had been in state custody since February 2007, initially on a trumped-up charge of resisting arrest, which was then changed to a treason charge. A three-month- long, closed-door trial culminated in a 10-year jail sentence. In June 2008, Judge Shakir Alekserov of the Court for Grave Crimes pronounced Mamedov guilty of treason. Authorities never made their evidence against Mamedov public. News reports said the case was based on an allegation that Mamedov had received money from Iran to publish Talyshi Sado.

The small, twice-weekly publication for Azerbaijan’s ethnic Talysh minority folded after his arrest.