New York, May 24, 2017–Azerbaijani authorities should immediately release freelance journalist Nijat Amiraslanov, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A district court in the northwestern Azerbaijani city of Gazakh yesterday sentenced the journalist to 30 days in prison on charges of resisting police.
The journalist’s lawyer, Elchin Sadygov, told CPJ that police arrested Amiraslanov on May 22 with no explanation as he quietly drank tea in a Gazakh café, and that Amiraslanov denied charges of resisting arrest. “If one is a journalist working with [independent media], one expects to be detained any time. And nobody can defend himself. It’s useless,” Sadygov said, adding that he had no doubt that Amiraslanov’s journalism was the reason for his arrest.
One of Amiraslanov’s colleagues, who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said Amiraslanov is well-known in Gazakh for his critical reports for local and regional media about poverty in the region and corruption among local officials. Four other Azerbaijani journalists, also speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, also told CPJ that they believe Amiraslanov was arrested for his critical reporting.
“We call on Azerbaijani authorities not to contest Nijat Amiraslanov’s appeal of this verdict, and to cease harassing and jailing critical reporters,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on Azerbaijan to reverse its record of jailing journalists on trumped-up, retaliatory charges.”
At least five journalists are imprisoned in Azerbaijan for their work on December 1, 2016, when CPJ last conducted its annual census of journalists imprisoned around the world. In April the government blocked access to at least five critical news websites by decree and sought a court order to make that censorship permanent, according to media reports.