Police in Baku detain a woman who was protesting in solidarity with Ismayilli residents after a riot on January 26. (Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili)
Police in Baku detain a woman who was protesting in solidarity with Ismayilli residents after a riot on January 26. (Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili)

Azerbaijani reporter jailed on mass disorder charges

New York, February 6, 2013–Azerbaijani authorities should drop charges of organizing mass disorder against Tofiq Yaqublu, a columnist for leading opposition daily Yeni Musavat, and immediately release him from jail, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On Monday, the Nasimi District Court in Baku ordered the journalist jailed for two months pending trial on charges of organizing mass disorder and violently resisting the police. The charges are in connection to the riots in the northwestern town of Ismayilli on January 23, the independent news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported. If convicted, Yaqublu faces up to 10 years in jail.

According to news reports and CPJ sources, police in Ismayilli arrested Yaqublu on January 24, when he arrived at the town to interview local residents about the causes of the unrest. He was arrested together with opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov, who was imprisoned on similar charges, according to news reports.

Thousands of local residents took to the streets of Ismayilli to demand a local governor’s resignation after regional authorities refused to shut down a motel that allegedly housed a brothel, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. News reports said the motel, which protesters later burned to the ground, allegedly belonged to the family of a high-ranking government official. Authorities sent police to quell the demonstrations; more than 100 residents were detained, RFE/RL’s Azeri service said.

Yaqublu, who is also a deputy head of the opposition Musavat party, is the eighth reporter imprisoned in Azerbaijan in connection to his work, according to CPJ research. All of the jailed reporters were jailed in retaliation for their exposes of government corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan, CPJ analysis found.

Rauf Ariforglu, Yeni Musavat‘s chief editor, said in an interview with Kavkazsky Uzel that his newspaper sent the columnist to Ismayilli to investigate and report on the riots, and that the journalist had his press card on him at the time of his arrest. Emin Huseynov, head of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), confirmed that Yaqublu was in the town to report on the unrest, telling CPJ that IRFS staffers witnessed the journalist working there.

“Azerbaijani authorities are making a practice of jailing journalists who express critical views about the government and its policies,” said CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia research associate, Muzaffar Suleymanov. “Authorities should drop the politically motivated charges against Tofiq Yaqublu, and immediately release him and the seven other reporters now imprisoned in the country.”

In a separate incident, Rahim Hajiyev, chief editor of the pro-opposition daily Azadlyg, was summoned on Tuesday to the general prosecutor’s office in connection with an article that his paper published earlier that day, IRFS reported. The article, titled “Shamakhi residents prepare to protest,” said that residents of the town west of Baku sought official permission to hold a rally in front of a regional government building on February 20. Hajiyev told IRFS that he was ordered to publish a retraction and was threatened with criminal prosecution if his paper continued to publish reports about protests.

“It is not a prosecutor’s job to tell the newspaper what to publish, and threats of criminal prosecution are unacceptable,” CPJ’s Suleymanov said.  

Over the past few weeks, Azerbaijanis have staged a series of bold protests against various government policies and perceived local injustices, RFE/RL reported.