Editor sentenced to 10 years in jail in Baku

New York, December 9, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the 10-year jail sentence given today to Azerbaijani journalist Nijat Aliyev, and calls on authorities to release the journalist on appeal.

The Baku Court for Grave Crimes convicted Aliyev, chief editor of news website Azadxeber, on separate charges of drug possession, unlicensed distribution of religious literature, making public calls to overthrow the constitutional regime, and incitement to ethnic hatred, according to the regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel. Aliyev denied the charges, which his lawyer said had been fabricated, according to Kavkazsky Uzel. The lawyer said Aliyev plans to appeal.

Aliyev’s deputy, Parvin Zeynalov, told local journalists that Azadxeber‘s critical reporting on the government’s religion policies, including perceived anti-Islamic activities, could have prompted the editor’s May 2012 arrest. Azadxeber covers religious news, and had often published articles that were critical of government policies, according to news reports.

Aliyev was arrested in Baku in May 2012 after local police said they found marijuana in his pocket. Aliyev said that police had planted the drugs. Authorities placed him in pre-trial detention, which they extended several times, and, in January 2013, filed other charges against him.

“We call on Azerbaijani authorities to scrap the politically motivated charges against Nijat Aliyev on appeal and release him,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Planting drugs on journalists has been one of authorities’ favored methods of silencing the press. It is high time that the Azerbaijani government cease this cowardly practice.”

Emin Huseynov, head of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, told Kavkazsky Uzel that Aliyev was persecuted in retaliation for his critical journalism, his coverage of the violations of the rights of religious people, and his website’s critical reporting on Azerbaijan being the host of the Eurovision song contest.

Azerbaijan–which currently holds at least eight journalists in prison in retaliation to their job–is scheduled to assume the rotating presidency in the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe in May 2014. The Council of Europe consists of 47 member states, all of which “have signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty designed to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” according to its website.