New York, June 20, 2017--Azerbaijani authorities should immediately release Fikret Faramazoglu, chief editor of the news website Journalistic Research Center, from prison and investigate the journalist's claims that he was severely beaten in custody, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Faramazoglu was sentenced on June 14 to seven years in prison for extortion and banned from working as a journalist for two years after serving his prison term, according to media reports.
Faramazoglu was detained on June 30 last year for allegedly receiving a large amount of money from a restaurant owner whom authorities claimed the journalist extorted, pro-government local media reported at the time. Faramazoglu denied in court that it is his signature on a police report stating that 3,000 manats (US$1,700) was found in his pocket. The journalist told the court he and his family were on a trip when the first incident of alleged extortion took place and requested that he be allowed to call witnesses. The judge denied his request. The judge also dismissed Faramazoglu's request for authorities to investigate the beating, according to reports.
"We condemn the jailing of Fikret Faramazoglu and call on Azerbaijani authorities to release him without delay," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. "Authorities should thoroughly investigate claims that Faramazoglu was beaten in jail and ensure that those responsible be punished to the full extent of the law."
The journalist's lawyer, Elchin Sadygov, told CPJ that the arrest came soon after Faramazoglu reported that restaurants were allegedly operating as brothels under the protection of law-enforcement agencies. Sadygov told media following the Baku court's verdict that he thinks the case was retaliation for Faramazoglu's reporting. Sadygov said Faramazoglu will appeal the verdict.
Faramazoglu's wife Faiga Nusrati told CPJ in December last year that her husband told her he was beaten so severely while in detention that he lost several teeth.
Faramazoglu has previously endured politically motivated prosecution and harassment in retaliation for his critical reporting on government corruption. CPJ documented how in 2006 Faramazoglu, then chief editor of the Baku-based opposition weekly 24 Saat, was found guilty of libel and sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term in retaliation for his reporting on alleged corruption in Azerbaijani law enforcement.