Araz Guliyev was arrested in 2012, after reporting on religious life in Azerbaijan. While he was in pretrial detention after his arrest while covering protests, authorities piled on a range of new anti-state and ethnic insult charges. He has exhausted all appeals.
Police arrested Guliyev, chief editor of the now-defunct religious news website Xeber 44, on September 8, 2012, while he was reporting on a protest against scantily clad dancers at a festival in the southeastern city of Masally, news reports said. On September 10, Azerbaijani authorities then charged the journalist with hooliganism, according to the regional news site Kavkazsky Uzel.
While he was in pretrial detention, authorities expanded Guliyev’s charges to include "illegal possession, storage, and transportation of firearms," "participation in activities that disrupt public order," "inciting ethnic and religious hatred," "resisting authority," and "offensive action against the flag and emblem of Azerbaijan," according to media reports.
Guliyev’s brother, Azer, told Kavkazsky Uzel that the journalist’s imprisonment could be related to his coverage of protests against an official ban on headscarves and veils in public schools. Xeber 44 covered news about religious life in Azerbaijan, and events across the Islamic world.
The journalist’s lawyer at the time, Fariz Namazli, told Kavkazsky Uzel that investigators said they found a grenade while searching Guliyev’s home, but, in fact, the investigators had planted it there.
In April 2013, the Lankaran Court on Grave Crimes convicted Guliyev of all charges and sentenced him to eight years in prison.
Namazli told the local press freedom organization Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety that the charges against Guliyev were not substantiated in court, and witnesses’ testimonies conflicted. The lawyer said authorities beat Guliyev after his arrest, and did not immediately grant the journalist access to a lawyer.
News reports said Guliyev filed an appeal, which regional courts then denied. In July 2014, Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court upheld the journalist’s sentence. In Azerbaijan, defendants cannot appeal a case once the Supreme Court has ruled.
Guliyev was initially placed in Prison No. 14, outside Baku, according to Kavkazsky Uzel.
In December 2014, inmates started a protest against the alleged torture and subsequent death of a fellow inmate, Elshad Babayev. Guliyev, also a protester, was placed in a solitary confinement and tortured, according to a September 2018 report on political prisoners held in Azerbaijan, which was compiled by a group of lawyers, human rights activists, and non-governmental organizations.
The report states that, in March 2015, the journalist was transferred to a Gobustan closed prison to serve the rest of his term. In September 2019, the wife of recently released journalist Seymur Hazi told CPJ via messaging app that to her knowledge, Guliyev remains in Gobustan closed prison.
The journalist’s lawyer, Elchin Sadygov, told CPJ in November 2018 that Guliyev was not receiving adequate treatment for multiple health issues, including problems with his kidneys and lungs.
On September 2019, CPJ emailed the state penitentiary service but received no response to its request for comment on the allegations that Guliyev was tortured in the previous prison. CPJ was not able to obtain an update on the state of Guliyev’s health.
On October 11, 2019, CPJ emailed the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Azerbaijan for comment but did not receive a response.
Guliyev is listed as a political prisoner in Azerbaijan in a January 2019 report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.