In Azerbaijan, journalist in hiding faces criminal investigation

New York, February 12, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Azerbaijani authorities to drop the criminal investigation of Emin Huseynov, journalist and media freedom advocate, and allow him to work and travel without harassment and fear of arrest.

News reports said on Wednesday that Huseynov, director of the Baku-based media freedom group Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, has been living at the Swiss embassy in Baku after going into hiding in August 2014. That month, a local court sentenced him in absentia to pre-trial detention and placed him under criminal investigation on accusations of tax evasion and engaging “in illegal business over unregistered grant contracts,” the news agency APA reported today citing a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry. Huseynov has not been officially charged.

Such accusations have often been used by Azerbaijani authorities to imprison critics, CPJ research shows. According to CPJ research, Azerbaijan is the worst jailer of journalists in Europe and Central Asia, with at least eight behind bars, including investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova, who has been in prison since December 5.

In August, authorities stopped Huseynov from traveling to Turkey for medical treatment, and police agents raided the IRFS offices and seized reporting equipment, including computers. The raid took place amid a large-scale crackdown on independent journalists, human rights activists, and civil society.

“We call on the Azerbaijani government to drop the criminal investigation of Emin Huseynov and stop using spurious allegations to harass and silence its critics,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “It is shameful for Azerbaijan that a journalist and rights defender has been forced to seek sanctuary on foreign soil, and that others languish in prison, because working for a more democratic country is treated is a crime.”

Huseynov has been attacked and harassed for his work in recent years, according to CPJ research. IRFS, an independent press freedom advocacy organization in Azerbaijan, stopped functioning after Huseynov went into hiding in August.