In Azerbaijan, editor jailed on drug possession charges

New York, June 25, 2012–Authorities in Azerbaijan must drop the charges against journalist Hilal Mamedov and immediately release him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Mamedov is the eighth journalist jailed in Azerbaijan, according to CPJ research.

Authorities detained Mamedov, chief editor of the independent newspaper Talyshi Sado, on Thursday after allegedly finding about 5 grams of heroin in his pocket, according to the Azeri-language service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The circumstances of the journalist’s arrest were not clear. Later that night, police raided the journalist’s home and said they found another 30 grams of heroin, news reports said. On Friday, the Nizami District Court in Baku, the capital, ordered Mamedov to be imprisoned for three months in pretrial detention on drug possession charges, the reports said.

Mamedov’s family said police had planted the drugs, according to local and international news reports. The journalist’s colleagues said he did not even smoke cigarettes and that he had been imprisoned in retaliation for his reporting, the reports said.

Mamedov, also a human rights activist, has written on the Talysh ethnic minority group in Azerbaijan, Emin Huseynov, the director of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, told CPJ. His articles have been published in Talyshi Sado and on regional and Russia-based news websites, Huseynov said. Huseynov also told CPJ that Mamedov had investigated the 2009 death in prison of Novruzali Mamedov, Talyshi Sado‘s former chief editor.

“If we believed the authorities, then journalists in Azerbaijan would appear to be among the most drug-addicted in the world,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Any time reporters write something critical, they run the risk of ending up behind bars on trumped-up drug charges. The authorities must stop harassing critical journalists, and they can begin by releasing Hilal Mamedov.”

Azerbaijan is the leading jailer of journalists in the region, according to CPJ research. This year, the government has stepped up its retaliation against independent reporting by intimidating and harassing journalists and imprisoning them on fabricated, politicized charges, CPJ research shows. Earlier this month, another journalist, Anar Bayramli, was convicted on trumped-up charges of drug possession and sentenced to two years in prison, CPJ research shows.