New York, July 24, 2017--An Azerbaijani court's sentencing of Faiq Amirov, financial director of the independent newspaper Azadliq, is a further serious blow to press freedom in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
A district court in Baku today sentenced Amirov (also known as Faiq Amirli) to three years and three months in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of 39,000 manats (U.S. $23,000) on charges of "inciting religious hatred," and tax evasion, according to media reports. Amirov can appeal the verdict. Following his August 20, 2016, arrest, the state-run printing house in Baku ceased publishing Azadliq because the newspaper could no longer make payments that only Amirov could authorize, according to media reports. Azadliq has not published since, and its website is blocked in the country. Azerbaijani authorities have repeatedly pursued and jailed Azadliq's staff in recent years.
According to press reports, the basis for Amirov's conviction on incitement charges was his possession of books by exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of masterminding the July 2016 failed military coup there. The government of Azerbaijan voiced strong support for the Turkish government following the failed coup.
Amirov's wife, Lala Amirli, on June 29 told the website Kavkazsky Uzel that her husband has difficulty moving, that half of his face is paralyzed, that he suffers from stomach ulcers that have been exacerbated by prison food, and that he cannot get proper medical treatment in prison.
"This sentencing of an already sick prisoner to even more jail time is a cruel attempt by an authoritarian government to put a nail in the coffin of one of the few independent news outlets in Azerbaijan. Having gone after Azadliq's journalists, the authorities are now jailing its accountant on the flimsy pretext of possessing a book by a religious leader out of favor in Turkey," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney.