New York, August 5, 2013–Authorities in Azerbaijan should stop their practice of jailing journalists in retaliation for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A district court in Baku on Friday ordered the imprisonment of Sardar Alibeili, chief editor of the independent newspaper P.S. Nota, for two months pending investigation of a criminal hooliganism charge, according to news reports. Alibeili, who has faced trumped-up charges in the past, faces up to seven years in jail on the new charge, the reports said.
“Azerbaijani authorities have a long record of fabricating criminal charges in retaliation for critical journalism, and the case against Sardar Alibeili fits right into that pattern,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Authorities should release Alibeili immediately, and they should stop their years-long persecution of him.”
The independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported that Baku police took Alibeili to a police station on Wednesday, where a local resident accused the editor of having attacked him. Alibeili has denied the allegation.
Alibeili has frequently criticized President Ilham Aliyev and his administration in P.S. Nota and has published commentaries by exiled politicians and army officers who accuse the president of corruption, human rights abuses, and authoritarianism. Kavkazsky Uzel reported that in a recent Facebook post Alibeili had published a collage that depicted Aliyev in handcuffs.
Alibeili, who previously edited the independent newspaper Nota Bene, has been imprisoned in retaliation for his work in recent years, CPJ research shows. In July 2009, a court in Baku convicted Alibeili on criminal defamation charges, and imprisoned him for three months. In April 2007, the editor was convicted and sentenced for defaming Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and served 18 months of corrective labor.
Press freedom has deteriorated in Azerbaijan in the last two years, threatening the public’s access to uncensored news ahead of the October 2013 presidential elections, CPJ research shows. At least seven other journalists are imprisoned in Azerbaijan, while other critical reporters and editors are being subjected to harassment, attacks, and threats.
In CPJ’s worldwide prison census, conducted on December 1, 2012, authorities were holding nine journalists in prison on what CPJ considers to be retaliatory charges, including hooliganism, drug possession, and extortion.
- For more data and analysis, visit CPJ’s Azerbaijan page here.