Stockholm, February 15, 2022 – Azerbaijani authorities should investigate allegations of police brutality against three journalists detained while covering a protest and allow all members of the press to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
This morning, police in the capital Baku detained Fatima Mövlamli, a reporter for independent news site Azadliq, Sevinj Sadygova, a reporter at independent news website Azel.tv, and Teymur Karimov, chief editor at the independent YouTube-based outlet Kanal1, according to news reports and the journalists, who spoke to CPJ by telephone and messaging app.
The three journalists were filming a demonstration when police forcefully tried to stop them before detaining them, according to the journalists and videos of the incident posted on Azel.tv and Karimov’s Facebook page. The demonstration was heading towards the presidential administration building and was held by mothers demanding that their sons killed in the recent war with neighboring Armenia be officially recognized as martyrs, according to the news reports.
“Azerbaijani authorities should fully investigate the allegations of outrageous police mistreatment of journalists Fatima Mövlamli, Sevinj Sadygova, and Teymur Karimov and take credible steps to ensure that such incidents do not recur,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Journalists from pro-government and critical outlets alike must be free to cover demonstrations without fear of arbitrary detention and police brutality.”
Police officers struck Karimov in the arm and knee as they forced him into a police car, he told CPJ. Officers took him to Police Station No. 9 in the Sabail district of Baku, before releasing him without charge after half an hour.
Officers hit and kicked Mövlamli and Sadygova as they loaded them into a police van before taking them to Police Station No. 9. There, they accused them of filming the administration headquarters, which police said was a protected building, the journalists told CPJ, adding that the protest was still several streets away from the presidential administration when they were detained.
They demanded that the pair delete their footage and, on two occasions, pushed Mövlemli to the ground and repeatedly kicked her in the legs and stomach. Officers also repeatedly swore at and insulted Sadygova and Mövlemli, calling the latter a “whore” and saying that they were “fed up” with her, the journalists told CPJ.
Mövlamli, whose outlet Azadliq has been blocked in Azerbaijan since 2017, regularly writes about authorities’ repression of political activists and has been detained more than 10 times, according to news reports.
Police also told them they had no right to act as journalists since they were not included in a centralized register of journalists, which was established by a new media law enacted on February 8, 2022, they said. When the law was enacted CPJ documented how journalists feared the register would be used to restrict the independent press; however, Azerbaijani authorities have denied that journalists excluded from the register will be subject to restrictions.
Police confiscated and subsequently returned one of Sadygova’s cell phones, she said, adding that police ordered the journalists be strip searched to recover additional phones. When the journalists refused unless they were permitted to speak to a lawyer, police relented.
Officers then transferred the pair to Baku Main Police Department, where they released them without charge after four hours. All three journalists told CPJ they plan to file official complaints over their treatment by police.
In an email sent to CPJ on February 16, after publication, the press office of the Interior Ministry of Azerbaijan said that an investigation was conducted into police treatment of Mövlemli, following which one officer was removed from duty. The email added that “any unlawful actions committed against journalists are unacceptable.”
Sadygova continued to report for Azel.tv as the founder, her husband Afgan Sadygov, is currently serving a four-year prison sentence in retaliation for his critical reporting, according to CPJ research.
Editor’s note: The 12th paragraph has been updated to include a response from the Interior Ministry of Azerbaijan and a clarification of whether an officer was removed from duty.