Rauf Mirkadyrov

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Azerbaijan’s National Security Agency detained Mirkadyrov when he arrived in Baku from Ankara, according to regional and international press reports. Mirkadyrov, who worked as the Turkey correspondent for the independent Azerbaijani daily newspaper Zerkalo for three years, had been deported from Turkey the day before at the request of Azerbaijani authorities, the reports said.

Mirkadyrov was arrested and charged with espionage, according to news reports. Mirkadyrov was ordered into pretrial detention for three months, the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported.

In July 2014, authorities extended his detention until November 21 of that year, Kavkazsky Uzel said. When the term was about to expire, the Nasimi District Court ordered Mirkadyrov to be kept in pretrial detention for a five more months, regional press reported.

The espionage charges stemmed from Mirkadyrov’s trips to Armenia and Georgia, as well as his time in Turkey. He was accused of meeting with Armenian security services and handing them information of a political and military nature, including state secrets, the independent news website Contact reported, citing the Azerbaijani prosecutor-general’s office.

Mirkadyrov denied the accusations and said they were politically motivated and in retaliation for his work. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison, Kavkazsky Uzel reported.

While reporting for Zerkalo in Turkey, Mirkadyrov often criticized Turkish and Azerbaijani authorities for human rights abuses, news reports said.

According to a Kavkazsky Uzel report that cited Mirkadyrov’s wife, Turkish police detained the family in Ankara on April 18, 2014, and accused them of being in the country on expired travel documents. She said their documents were valid through the end of the year. Mirkadyrov was deported the next day. His wife later said that the family showed police a document that said the family was allowed to remain in Turkey until the end of the year, the paper reported. Turkish authorities did not explain the discrepancy, the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported.

Mirkadyrov was also involved in nongovernmental projects on improving dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan, according to news reports. The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since the early 1990s, due to a dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Mirkadyrov is being held at the National Security Agency’s pretrial detention facility, Kavkazsky Uzel reported. In August 2015, authorities briefly hospitalized him after he complained of hypertension, his lawyer told Kavkazsky Uzel. A month later, news reports said that the journalist’s pretrial detention was extended until November 16. A closed-door trial for Mirkadyrov began on November 19, 2015, according to reports.

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.