Baku police detained Mamedov, editor of Talyshi Sado (Voice of the Talysh), on June 21, 2012, on allegations that they had found about five grams of heroin in his pocket, the Azeri-language service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. After his arrest, Baku police declared they found an additional 30 grams of heroin in Mamedov’s home when they searched it the same day, news reports said. A day later, a district court in Baku ordered Mamedov to be held in pretrial detention for three months on drug possession charges. Mamedov’s family claims police planted the drugs, and his colleagues said they believed the editor was targeted in retaliation for his reporting, reports said.
Talyshi Sado covered issues affecting the Talysh ethnic minority group in Azerbaijan. Mamedov’s articles have been published in Talyshi Sado and on regional and Russia-based news websites, according to Emin Huseynov, director of the local press freedom organization Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety. Huseynov told CPJ that Mamedov had investigated the case of Novruzali Mamedov, Talyshi Sado’s former chief editor who died in prison in 2009. The two journalists were not related.
In July 2012, authorities lodged more charges against Mamedov, including treason and incitement to ethnic and religious hatred, news reports said. Azerbaijan’s interior ministry said in a statement that Mamedov had undermined the country’s security in articles for Talyshi Sado, through interviews with the Iranian broadcaster Sahar TV, and in unnamed books that he was alleged to have translated and distributed. The statement denounced domestic and international protests against Mamedov’s imprisonment and said the journalist used his office to spy for Iran.
In September 2013, Mamedov was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of drug possession, treason, and incitement to ethnic and religious hatred, regional press reported. His trial was marred by procedural violations and authorities failed to back up their charges with credible evidence, news reports said.
Local human rights defenders said they believe the conviction was in retaliation for Mamedov’s criticism of the authorities’ failure to investigate the death of Novruzali Mamedov. News reports said that before his death, the chief editor had been denied adequate medical treatment for several illnesses. Human rights and press freedom groups including CPJ have called for an independent investigation into his death.
According to the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel, the court ruled that Hilal Mamedov was to serve his sentence in a strict penal colony. Mamedov was being held at Prison No. 17, outside Baku, according to an August 2014 report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan by a group of lawyers, human rights defenders, and non-governmental organizations.
In June 2014, Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court denied Mamedov’s appeal, the report said. His lawyers filed an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which in November 2014 started the first stages of communication with Azerbaijani authorities, a necessary step before the court can begin work on the case, Kavkazsky Uzel reported. In late 2015 CPJ was unable to determine the status of Mamedov’s case or of his health.
In the run-up to the first European Games, held in Baku in June 2015, CPJ and the Sport for Rights coalition pressed the European Olympic Committees to demand the release of imprisoned journalists and a halt to Azerbaijan’s crackdown on journalists and civil society.