Baku police visited Bayramli’s home, summoned him for interrogation, and detained him after declaring they had found 0.387 grams of heroin in his jacket, news reports said. Bayramli, a Baku-based correspondent for the Iranian Sahar TV and Fars news agency, denied the accusations and said police planted the drugs. In June 2012, the Binagadinsky District Court convicted Bayramli of drug possession and sentenced him to two years in prison, the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported.
The arrest came at a time of heightened tension between the Azerbaijani and Iranian governments. Tehran had accused Azerbaijan of helping Israel assassinate an Iranian nuclear scientist; Baku had claimed Iran was plotting attacks in Azerbaijan.
Local rights activists told CPJ they believed that police planted the drugs in retaliation for Bayramli’s journalism. In his broadcasts, Bayramli often reported on Azerbaijan’s human rights record and criticized Azerbaijani foreign policy, including its supposed cooperation with Israel. Prior to his arrest, police told Bayramli several times to visit their headquarters for what they termed “a conversation,” during which they urged him to stop working for Iranian media, Emin Huseynov of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety told CPJ.
In an interview interpreted by Huseynov, the journalist’s lawyer said Bayramli took off his jacket at the district police headquarters and left it in the lobby before entering the office of the local police chief. As the journalist was about to leave the building after the meeting, police agents suddenly asked him to reveal the contents of his jacket and found heroin.
Bayramli denied the drug charges in court and said he was being persecuted for his journalism. “If Azerbaijan had an independent court, it would certainly release me,” he told the court. “But since courts in our country are an appendage of the state, I don’t expect a fair verdict.” CPJ has documented a recent pattern of cases in which Azerbaijani authorities have filed questionable drug charges against journalists whose coverage has been at odds with official views.