Azerbaijan jails yet another critical reporter

New York, October 30, 2014–A court in Azerbaijan today sentenced Khalid Garayev, a reporter for the embattled opposition newspaper Azadliq and the technical director of “Azerbaijani Hour,” Azadliq‘s online TV program, to almost a month in prison on charges of hooliganism and disobeying the police, according to news reports.

The Binagadi District Court in Baku found Garayev guilty and sentenced him to 25 days, according to the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The journalist was detained on Wednesday night, his lawyer Bahruz Bayramov said, according to the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel.

The court accused Garayev of using foul language in public and ignoring the orders of police who allegedly urged him to stop doing so, Radio Azadlyg, the Azeri service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reported. Garayev denied both charges and said they were fabricated and that he was being jailed in retaliation for his journalistic work, Radio Azadlyg said. He plans to appeal, according to reports.

The online TV show, “Azerbaijani Hour,” which is critical of the government and covers official corruption in Azerbaijan, has been targeted by authorities in recent months. In August, authorities arrested Seymur Hazi, the lead anchor of the program, on hooliganism charges, according to news reports. The same month, the brother of another “Azerbaijani Hour” anchor, Natiq Adilov, was arrested on trumped-up drug charges, which Adilov said was in retaliation for his own journalistic work, the reports said. Hazi was sentenced to two months of pretrial detention, and Adilov’s brother was given three months in pretrial detention, news reports said.

In recent years, public officials and their supporters have targeted the weekly Azadliq newspaper with civil defamation lawsuits, according to CPJ research.

“The Azerbaijani government is working hard to cement its membership in the club of the world’s worst jailers of journalists,” said Muzaffar Suleymanov, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia researcher. “We call on authorities to release Khalid Garayev on appeal and stop trying to silence journalists and critics of the government.”

Azerbaijan is jailing more than a dozen journalists and rights activists in retaliation for their work, according to research by CPJ and other human rights groups. In October, a coalition of international press freedom groups, including CPJ, sent a letter to the members of the Council of Europe, calling on European governments to hold Azerbaijan responsible for its ongoing repression of journalists and press freedom advocates.

Following his recent trip to Baku, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks said that his visit was “dictated by the arrest and detention over last summer of virtually all the civil society partners of my Office, which makes it increasingly difficult to work on human rights issues in Azerbaijan.”