Zeynally, editor of the independent daily Khural, was arrested in October 2011, after a parliament member, Gyuler Akhmedova, accused him of bribery and extortion. Akhmedova alleged that the editor had tried to extort 10,000 manat (US$12,700) from her in August 2011, according to regional and international press reports. After Zeynally was arrested, authorities confiscated all of Khural’s reporting equipment, citing the newsroom’s inability to pay damages in a separate 2010 defamation lawsuit filed by presidential administration officials. Khural now publishes online only.
Zeynally denied the accusations and described a much different encounter with Akhmedova, the independent regional news websiteKavkazsky Uzel reported. In September 2011, Zeynally reported in Khural that Akhmedova had offered him money in exchange for his paper’s loyalty to authorities. He reported that he had refused the offer.
According to news reports and CPJ sources, Zeynally’s trial, which started in May 2012, was marred by procedural violations and lack of evidence. Zeynally’s lawyer, Elchin Sadygov, told Kavkazsky Uzel that the prosecution witnesses had failed to support with credible evidence any of the charges lodged against Zeynally.
In September 2012, Akhmedova resigned from parliament after a video surfaced on the Internet that purported to show her demanding a bribe from a potential candidate in exchange for a seat in parliament. Although she was imprisoned on swindling charges, authorities did not drop the charges against Zeynally.
Emin Huseynov, director of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, told CPJ that weeks before Zeynally’s arrest, his paper had criticized President Ilham Aliyev’s repressive policies toward independent journalists and opposition activists. Zeynally had published two commentaries in Khural that were especially critical of the administration. In the first, he disparaged comments made by Aliyev in an Al-Jazeera interview that painted a glowing picture of the country’s development. In the second, Zeynally accused the government of retaliatory prosecution against Khural, Huseynov told CPJ.
On March 9, 2013, the Baku-based Court for Grave Crimes sentenced Zeynally to a nine-year prison term after convicting him on criminal charges including tax evasion, bribery, and extortion. The tax evasion charges were introduced after tax authorities alleged that Zeynally had avoided tax payments since 2008, according to reports.
CPJ believes the charges to be fabricated in retaliation for Zeynally’s reporting and commentary.
Zeynally was being held at Azerbaijan’s Prison No. 10, according to an August 2014 report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan by a group of lawyers, human rights defenders, and non-governmental organizations.