Court in Azerbaijan sentences journalist to eight years in jail

New York, May 15, 2014–The eight-year prison term given today to a journalist in Azerbaijan is a breach of the country’s declared commitments to press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Parviz Hashimli is the editor of the independent news website Moderator and a reporter for the independent newspaper Bizim Yol

Azerbaijan assumed the rotating presidency of the Council of Europe, the intergovernmental human rights watchdog, on Wednesday. Members of the council have signed on to the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty designed to protect human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. However, Azerbaijan has at least nine journalists in prison, according to CPJ research.

“Instead of bringing its press freedom and human rights record in line with the values of the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan continues to reach new lows,” said Muzaffar Suleymanov, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program researcher. “We call on the members of the Council of Europe to hold Azerbaijan accountable and demand the release of Parviz Hashimli and all journalists in jail for their work.”

Hashimli was convicted of possessing and smuggling firearms, which he denied, the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported. His lawyers said they would appeal. The journalist was arrested in September 2013, after a local man, Tavvakyul Gurbanov–who was also convicted and sentenced to jail today–told authorities that he had brought weapons from Iran on Hashimli’s request. Hashimli repeatedly denied knowing Gurbanov or meeting him prior to his arrest, news reports said. He and his lawyer said in court that authorities kept him incommunicado for 20 days after his arrest and barred him access to a lawyer, reports said.

At the time of Hashimli’s arrest, agents with Azerbaijan’s national security agency, the MNB, raided Hashimli’s home and claimed to have found a pistol and several hand grenades, news reports said. Agents also raided the newsrooms of the Moderator and Bizim Yol and confiscated their equipment. Both papers are known for their coverage of corruption and human rights abuses, as well as for their critical reporting on Azerbaijan’s authoritarian president, Ilham Aliyev, who was re-elected to his third term in October 2013.

Emin Huseynov, director of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, told CPJ at the time that he believed the charges against Hashimli were fabricated and that his arrest was meant to be a warning to the local press in the run-up to the election.

In a separate case, security officials at Heydar Aliyev Airport in Baku briefly detained two French journalists and confiscated their equipment and footage on Wednesday, according to news reports. France 2 TV journalist Laurent Richard and cameraman Emmanuel Bach were leaving the country after reporting on French President François Hollande’s visit last week to Azerbaijan, the reports said. They had also worked on a documentary on Azerbaijan, for which they met and interviewed local human rights and opposition activists. Their footage was not returned.

“Azerbaijan should focus on addressing the issues raised by journalists and human rights defenders instead of trying to suppress their information. We urge the authorities to return all of Laurent Richard’s and Emmanuel Bach’s confiscated material,” said CPJ’s Suleymanov.