Editor handed five-year jail term in Azerbaijan

New York, September 30, 2013–An appellate court in Azerbaijan should reverse the conviction and five-year prison sentence handed on Friday to Hilal Mamedov, chief editor of the independent newspaper Talyshi Sado.

A court in Baku, the capital, convicted Mamedov of treason, incitement to hatred, and selling illegal drugs, and sentenced him to five years in prison after a closed-door trial, according to news reports. Mamedov was arrested in June 2012 and initially charged with drug possession. One month later, he was also charged with treason and incitement to ethnic and religious hatred, according to news reports. The journalist is appealing the conviction.

“Given the wide range of charges thrown at Hilal Mamedov, it’s as if Azerbaijani authorities are desperate to keep him from practicing journalism,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “His conviction should be overturned on appeal and Mamedov set free immediately.”

In a statement in 2012, Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry said Mamedov had undermined the country’s security through his articles for Talyshi Sado, interviews he had given to Iranian broadcaster Sahar-2, and unnamed books he had allegedly translated and distributed. The statement also accused the journalist of spying for Iran.

Local and international press freedom and human rights groups, including the independent Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, have unsuccessfully called for an investigation into allegations by the journalist and his lawyer, who reported having seen bruises on his client’s body, that he was tortured and that his defense motions were summarily denied in court.

In 2008, Novruzali Mamedov, editor of Talyshi Sado and no relation to Hilal, was also convicted of treason and sentenced to 10 years in jail after a closed-door trial. A year into serving his sentence, Mamedov died in prison. News reports said he had been denied adequate medical treatment for several illnesses. After his death, human rights and press freedom groups, including CPJ, called for an independent investigation into his death, but none was conducted.

Hilal Mamedov, then deputy editor of the paper, was on the forefront in criticizing authorities for not conducting an investigation. Local human rights defenders said Hilal Mamedov’s efforts provoked the government, the Russian news website Gazeta reported.

Azerbaijan, which holds at least nine journalists behind bars in retaliation for their work, is due to assume the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe in 2014.