Stockholm, December 1, 2023 – The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns an Azerbaijani court decision on Friday to detain journalist Nargiz Absalamova for three months and calls on Azerbaijani authorities to release her and her jailed Abzas Media colleagues.
“The continued arrests of Abzas Media journalists are unacceptable and only show how Azerbaijani authorities are unable to forgive the outlet for its bold anticorruption coverage,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna in New York. “Journalists should not be prosecuted in retaliation for their vital public interest reporting, nor should they be used as pawns in diplomatic spats. Azerbaijani authorities must immediately release Nargiz Absalamova, her Abzas Media colleagues, and all other unjustly jailed journalists.”
On Friday, December 1, the Khatai District Court in the capital, Baku, ordered Absalamova detained on charges of conspiring to bring money into the country unlawfully, local media reported. Police in Baku arrested Absalamova, a reporter for Abzas Media, on Thursday.
Absalamova is the fourth member of Abzas Media to be held in pretrial detention on those charges since police said they had found 40,000 euro (US$43,650) during a raid on the outlet’s office on November 20.
On November 28, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the U.S., German, and French envoys and accused their embassies and organizations registered in those countries of illegally funding Abzas Media. Reports in Azerbaijani state and pro-government media used materials apparently leaked from authorities’ investigation into Abzas Media to accuse the outlet’s staff of illegally bringing undeclared grants from foreign donor organizations into the country.
Media reports have linked the crackdown on Abzas Media to a decline in Azerbaijani-Western relations amid Azerbaijani claims of Western pro-Armenian bias following Azerbaijan’s military recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh in September. An anti-Western campaign in Azerbaijani state media initiated days before the first Abzas Media arrests highlighted donor organizations’ funding of civil society and independent media, accusing them of creating networks of Western “agents” in Azerbaijan and advocating a hunt for “spies.”
Absalamova and her colleagues deny the charges, calling them retaliation for the outlet’s anticorruption investigations into senior state officials. If found guilty, they face up to eight years in prison under Article 206.3.2 of Azerbaijan’s criminal code.
Separately, a court on Monday ordered Aziz Orujov, director of the popular independent online broadcast Kanal 13, to be detained for three months pending investigation into illegal construction charges that his lawyer believes are retaliatory.