New York, March 3, 2017--Azerbaijani authorities should immediately release blogger and press freedom advocate Mehman Huseynov, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A court in Baku today sentenced Huseynov to two years in prison on defamation charges for alleging that police beat him, according to his lawyer and media reports. CPJ called on prosecutors not to contest Huseynov's appeal.
Five plainclothes policemen dragged Huseynov--who runs a widely read Facebook page with a history of critical reporting on Azerbaijan's government and who runs the advocacy group the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety--into an unmarked vehicle the night of January 9, according to media reports, human rights groups, and his lawyer, Elchin Sadygov. The following day, the Nasimi District Court in Baku fined him 200 Azerbaijani manats (US $112) on charges of resisting police, CPJ reported at the time. Award-winning journalist Khadija Ismayilova told CPJ that the blogger's face was bruised and his shirt was covered in blood when he was released from the courthouse.
During his January 10 trial, Huseynov told the judge that police had beaten him, put a plastic bag over his head, and tasered him, Sadygov, his lawyer, told CPJ. The judge ordered prosecutors to investigate the allegations, but prosecutors in Baku on February 1 refused to accept his criminal complaint against the police, according to local and regional media reports. Prosecutors did, however, act on a January 12 criminal complaint from Musa Musayev, chief police officer for Baku's Nasimi district, charging Huseynov with defamation for saying he had been beaten in custody. In a January 13 press release, the Interior Ministry said Huseynov's allegations were "groundless" and "cast a negative light on the police."
Huseynov began serving his sentence for defamation today, and would appeal the verdict, his lawyer told CPJ.
"Defamation should never be a criminal matter, but jailing Mehman Huseynov for saying police brutally abused him is a particularly obscene and cruel travesty of justice," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. "We call for Huseynov's immediate release and for an end to the grotesque prosecution of the blogger and press freedom advocate."
Huseynov has frequently reported on official corruption and police brutality on his Facebook page, which more than 300,000 people follow, and other social media platforms. Shortly before his January 9 detention, he published a series of video reports on Azerbaijani officials' opulent villas. On February 27, he published a video report critical of the appointment of Mehriban Aliyeva, President Ilham Aliyev's wife, to the newly created position of first vice president.