Law enforcement officers detain a protester in Baku, Azerbaijan, on October 19, 2019. Police detained journalist Seymur Hazi in the run-up to the protests. (Reuters/Aziz Karimov)

Azerbaijani journalist Seymur Hazi detained in run-up to protests

October 21, 2019 3:54 PM ET

New York, October 21, 2019 -- Azerbaijani authorities should immediately release journalist Seymur Hazi, drop any charges against him, and allow him to report freely and safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On October 17, in the run-up to protests against alleged corruption and low wages, and in favor of government reform, police arrested Hazi, a reporter for the independent news website Meydan TV, as he was leaving his house in Baku, the capital, according to news reports and his wife, Nigar Hazi, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.

Later that day, the Khetai district court in Baku charged Hazi with minor hooliganism and noncompliance with police orders, and sentenced him to 15 days in detention, his wife said.

Hazi previously served a five-year prison term on retaliatory charges for his journalism, in which he alleged government corruption and human rights abuses; he was released on August 29, 2019, according to CPJ research.

“Seymur Hazi has not been free for two months and authorities have already thrown him back behind bars on trumped-up charges,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Journalists need to be able to cover protests and other sensitive topics. Azerbaijani authorities must release Hazi and allow him to work freely.”

Hazi planned to cover the protests for Meydan TV, his wife said. In the days before the protests began on October 19, police arrested about 100 people whom they suspected would be involved in the demonstrations, according to a statement posted to Facebook by the opposition Popular Front Party.

Police in Azerbaijan detained dozens more people during the protests on October 19 and 20, according to media reports. The deputy head of the Baku police, Sakhlab Bagirov, confirmed to Reuters on October 19 that some people had been detained, but declined to provide an exact number.

CPJ’s phone calls to Azerbaijani Ministry of Interior went unanswered.

[Editor's Note: This piece has been changed in its third paragraph to correct the name of the court where Hazi was charged.]