Journalist for Iranian media imprisoned in Azerbaijan

New York, February 22, 2012–Anar Bayramli, Baku-based correspondent for Iranian broadcaster Sahar TV and news agency Fars, has been imprisoned for two months pending trial over drug charges. The Committee to Protect Journalists has determined the charges are fabricated and calls on authorities in Azerbaijan to release him immediately.

On Friday, Baku police visited Bayramli’s home, summoned him for interrogation, and detained him after declaring they found 0.387 grams of heroin in his jacket, Reuters reported. The journalist denied the accusations and said police planted the drugs. The next day, the Binagadinsky District Court ordered Bayramli’s pretrial imprisonment for two months on charges of drug possession and resisting police officers; the ruling was announced without his lawyer present. If convicted, Bayramli faces up to three years in jail.

Local rights activists told CPJ they believe police are retaliating against Bayramli for his journalism. In his broadcasts, Bayramli often reported on Azerbaijan’s worsening human rights record and criticized Azerbaijani foreign policy, including alleged cooperation with Israel. Prior to his arrest, police told Bayramli several times to visit their headquarters for what they termed “a conversation,” during which they urged him to stop working for Iranian media, Emin Huseynov, director of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, told CPJ.

In an interview interpreted by Huseynov, the journalist’s lawyer said Bayramli took off his jacket at the district police headquarters and left it in the lobby before entering the office of the local police chief. As the journalist was about to leave the building after the meeting, police agents suddenly asked him to reveal the contents of his jacket and found heroin.

“The charges against Anar Bayramli are false and he should be released immediately,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney.

Also Friday, police in the town of Sumgayit, north of Baku, detained Ramil Dadashev, a driver for Sahar TV, the independent news website Gazeta reported. It is unclear why Dadashev was detained, whether authorities continue to hold him, and whether he has been charged.

Harassment in Azerbaijan against local staffers for Iranian media companies comes amidst heightening diplomatic tensions between the two countries, including mutual accusations of stirring internal unrest, regional and international press reported.

Prior to the Bayramli’s arrest, the speaker of Azerbaijan’s parliament accused Sahar TV of “preparing anti-Azerbaijan provocations,” Reuters reported.