Azerbaijani human rights activist and independent journalist Abid Gafarov has been serving a one-year prison sentence since July 2022 on charges of defaming and insulting war veterans.
Gafarov is the head of Bakı Birlik Təşkilatı (Baku Unity Organization), a non-governmental organization that advocates on issues including drug prevention and veterans assistance, according to its social media pages. He also runs the YouTube-based news outlet KIM TV, where he presents news stories and has around 42,000 subscribers.
On his YouTube channel, Gafarov has been a prominent reporter on the 2017 “Tartar case,” in which about 400 soldiers are alleged to have been tortured or otherwise physically abused, and about 10 killed, over false claims of involvement in espionage; he has also advocated on behalf of soldiers involved in that case, according to news reports and several local human rights defenders who spoke to CPJ.
During a speech outside the court hearing of an opposition political leader on May 27, 2022, Gafarov criticized veterans of Azerbaijan’s 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war over settling for being treated as “subhuman” by Azerbaijani authorities and for being “submissive” in not fighting for their rights. Shortly after, seven war veterans filed defamation and insult claims against him, demanding the maximum combined sentence of one year in prison, according to news reports.
Prior to the first hearing in Gafarov’s trial on July 6, 2022, four of the seven plaintiffs withdrew their complaints after accepting Gafarov’s explanation that he had not insulted them, according to Kavkazsky Uzel. That day, regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel quoted Gafarov as saying that he believed the case was a “political order” from the authorities, and that the veterans were being “used” to punish him for his revelations concerning the Tartar case.
Fuad Hasanov, chair of local human rights group Democracy Monitor, told CPJ by messaging app that authorities had previously jailed human rights defender Ilham Aslanoglu on defamation charges thought to be retaliation for his work on the Tartar case.
Several local rights defenders told CPJ that they believe the charges were in retaliation for Gafarov’s journalistic work investigating and reporting on the Tartar case, as well as his work on that case with Bakı Birlik Təşkilatı.
Gafarov and his lawyers argued that the charges were unfounded, because he had not singled out any specific individuals in his statements and had only made general remarks, according to that report and Gafarov’s lawyer, Agil Layij, who communicated with CPJ by email.
The defense also objected to the court’s reliance on an expert linguistic analysis that they said had been prepared within 48 hours of being ordered by the court, saying that such a process normally takes more than a month, according to those sources.
In a second hearing on July 13, the district court found Gafarov guilty of defaming and insulting the veterans and sentenced him to the maximum term of one year in prison, according to news reports.
Layij told CPJ by email that the court did not provide lawyers time to prepare an adequate defense, while Gafarov’s other lawyer, Elchin Sadygov, said the judge did not allow the defense to make a closing statement, according to the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety.
Layij told CPJ in October that the Baku Appeals Court had rejected Gafarov’s appeal, and that he had filed a further appeal with the Supreme Court.
Gafarov is serving his sentence in the penitentiary service’s Prison No. 14 in Absheron district, Baku, Layij told CPJ, adding that the journalist had not reported any health problems.
In November 2022, CPJ emailed the Ministry of Justice of Azerbaijan and the prosecutor general’s office for comment on Gafarov’s case but did not receive any replies.