Washington, D.C., June 18, 2019 -- Azerbaijani authorities should immediately release journalists Ikram Rahimov and Polad Aslanov and drop the charges against them, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On June 12, the Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced Ikram Rahimov, chief editor of independent news website Realliq, to five and a half years in prison on charges of extortion, according to the journalist's lawyer, Elchin Sadygov, who spoke with CPJ, and regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel.
On June 14, the Sabail district court in Baku ordered Polad Aslanov, chief editor of independent news websites Xeberman and Press-az, to remain in detention for four months pending an investigation on charges of high treason following his arrest on June 12, according to Sadygov, who is also representing Aslanov, and Kavkazsky Uzel. If found guilty, he could be jailed for life, according to Article 274 of the Azerbaijani criminal code and the journalist's lawyer.
"Azerbaijani authorities relentlessly campaign against independent reporters who expose corruption, injustice, and lies, and have stepped up their repressive tactics by leveling charges of treason," Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in New York. "Azerbaijani authorities should immediately release journalists Ikram Rahimov and Polad Aslanov and drop all charges against them."
On October 26, 2018, police arrested Rahimov a few hours after he published an editorial alleging corruption in the country's Press Council, a government media regulator, as CPJ reported at the time. Authorities alleged that Rahimov and his colleagues collected compromising information on individuals as a means of extortion, while Rahimov's brother told CPJ that the journalist was being prosecuted for his work.
Rahimov has been held in pretrial detention since his arrest, and his jail sentence includes time served, his lawyer said. Sadygov told CPJ the journalist will appeal the verdict.
On June 12, 2019, Azerbaijani authorities detained Aslanov with his wife and daughter at a border crossing when he attempted to enter Iran to attend a friend's wedding, according to Kavkazsky Uzel. The following day, the country's state security service issued a statement accusing Aslanov of conspiring to sell secret information to foreign governments and publishing anti-government statements online. His wife and daughter were released after being briefly detained, and authorities confiscated Aslanov's camera, computer, and phone, according to Kavkazsky Uzel.
Sadygov told CPJ that Aslanov denies the charges and said they were in retaliation for the journalist's criticism of public officials and laws. Sadygov said the journalist was preparing to publish an investigation into alleged corruption in the tourism sector involving high-ranking government officials before his arrest.
The Azerbaijani prosecutor general's office in Baku did not respond to CPJ's emailed request for comment on the cases.
Ten journalists were found to be imprisoned in Azerbaijan in direct relation to their work at the time of CPJ's annual prison census on December 1, 2018.