Aziz Orujov, director of the online broadcaster Kanal 13, has been detained since November 2023 on charges of illegal construction and conspiracy to bring money into the country unlawfully.
In 2017, authorities sentenced Orujov to six years in prison on charges of illegal entrepreneurship and abuse of power, which were widely viewed as retaliation for his journalism; he was released on probation in 2018. In 2021, Orujov’s name was on a leaked list of individuals potentially targeted with Pegasus, spyware produced by the Israeli company NSO Group, according to the global investigative network Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
ARREST AND DETENTION
Police from the Sabail District in the capital, Baku, arrested Orujov at his family home on the evening of November 27, 2023, and searched his home, car, and Kanal 13’s office. The journalist’s wife, Lamiya Orujova, told CPJ that her husband was arrested “like a terrorist” by eight police officers, seven of whom were wearing masks. Police confiscated documents and USB sticks from Kanal 13’s office and took two laptops, a cell phone, documents, and bank cards from their home, she said.
Police accused Orujov of illegally building a home for himself on a plot of land that he had purchased in Sabail District, Orujova said. The journalist’s lawyer, Bahruz Bayramov, told CPJ that although the land was not officially registered to Orujov, this was also the case for around half a million homes in and around Baku, and that he was not aware of anyone else being arrested for the offense. Instead, the charges were in retaliation for Orujov’s journalism, according to the lawyer.
Azerbaijan’s deputy minister of internal affairs, Fazil Guliyev, told CPJ by email on December 8 that Orujov was summoned by police on November 27, and that information that he was arrested by eight police officers, most of them masked, “does not reflect the truth.” Guliyev said that so far in 2023, 34 other people individuals besides Orujov had been criminally prosecuted on the same illegal construction charges, adding that “the media in our country is free, and no one, including journalists, … can be prosecuted for exercising their freedom of expression and opinion.”
On November 28, the Sabail District Court ordered that Orujov be held in pretrial detention for three months on the illegal construction charges, media reported. Those charges are punishable by up to three years in prison under Article 188.2 of Azerbaijan’s criminal code.
2023 AZERBAIJAN MEDIA CRACKDOWN
Orujov’s detention came amid the arrests of four members of anti-corruption investigative outlet Abzas Media as of December 1. Kanal 13 and Abzas Media are two of a small number of independent outlets remaining in Azerbaijan following a series of raids, arrests, and criminal investigations against independent media and press freedom groups since 2014.
Orujov is being held at the Baku Pretrial Detention Center, Bayramov told CPJ in late November 2023. Anar Orujov told CPJ that his brother suffers from a kidney ailment exacerbated by his imprisonment in 2017, and that the family fears he may not receive adequate treatment in detention.
CPJ emailed the Penitentiary Service of Azerbaijan in December 2023 but did not receive a reply.