In Azerbaijan, Meydan TV reporters harassed, jailed

New York, September 18, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the harassment of independent news outlet Meydan TV by Azerbaijani authorities. This week Shirin Abbasov, a reporter for the outlet, was imprisoned, authorities searched the home of another of its reporters, and questioned two journalists who work for the outlet.

“This week’s developments in Azerbaijan are outrageous, and we urge the authorities to release Shirin Abbasov and other imprisoned journalists,” said Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “Authorities must stop harassing Meydan TV and journalists who report for the outlet. Journalism is not a crime.”

Abbasov was sentenced on Thursday to 30 days in jail on an administrative charge of disobeying police orders, the independent news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported. Reports said that Abbasov went missing on his way to university on September 16. Authorities initially denied they were holding him when approached by a legal representative for the journalist’s family, according to reports.

On Thursday morning Abbasov’s family was told that the journalist is being held at the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, according to reports. Later that day, authorities informed the family that Abbasov had been sentenced to jail, but did not provide a reason for his arrest or name the court that heard his case, Meydan TV said. News reports said that Abbasov was denied access to a lawyer.

In two separate incidents today, police in Baku searched the apartment of Meydan TV contributor Javid Abdullayev, and detained freelance photographer Ahmed Mukhtar, who contributes to a magazine affiliated with U.K.-based press freedom group Index on Censorship and whose brother works for Meydan TV, reports said. He was released late on Friday, according to reports. In a statement, Index on Censorship said several relatives of Meydan TV journalists have been arrested recently. According to independent news website Contact, police confiscated two computers and three cameras from Abdullayev’s apartment in connection to Abbasov’s case.

On September 16, police detained and questioned freelance reporter Aitadzh Akhmedova and another unnamed female trainee journalist for five hours in connection with their work for the news outlet, Kavkazsky Uzel said. According to reports, police questioned the journalists without their lawyer present. According to reports, Akhmedova’s mother told reporters that her daughter will stop working for Meydan TV.

During Azerbaijan’s crackdown on the media last year Meydan TV, which is known for its critical reporting on government corruption as well as press freedom and human rights abuses, closed its Baku newsroom, news reports said. The outlet is currently produced from Germany, using contributors in Azerbaijan.

In June, Emin Milli, its director who is living in exile, told the media that Azerbaijani authorities had threatened to punish him. According to Milli’s account, published by The Daily Beast, a threatening note allegedly sent by Azerbaijan’s sports minister read: “We will get you wherever you are and the state will punish you for this smear-campaign against the state that you have organized. You will get punished for this. You will not be able to walk freely in Berlin or anywhere else.” Later that month, authorities barred four Meydan TV, including Abbasov, from leaving the country because of the outlet’s critical coverage of the European Games in Baku, Kavkazsky Uzel reported at the time. Earlier this month, Azerbaijani prosecutors questioned three Meydan TV contributors about the news outlet, its funding, and their reporting, reports said.

Abbasov’s sentence raises the number of imprisoned reporters in Azerbaijan to nine, cementing the oil-rich nation’s position as a leading jailer of journalists in Europe and Central Asia, CPJ research shows. CPJ and other rights groups have repeatedly urged President Ilham Aliyev to end his country’s repression of the media and to release all imprisoned journalists, including award-winning reporter Khadija Ismayilova.