Tofiq Yaqublu

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Police arrested Yaqublu, a columnist for the leading opposition daily Yeni Musavat, when he arrived in Ismayilli to interview residents about riots, according to news reports.

On February 4, 2013, the Nasimi District Court in Baku ordered Yaqublu to be held in pretrial detention for two months on charges of organizing mass disorder and violently resisting police. Ilgar Mammadov, an opposition politician who was arrested with Yaqublu, was imprisoned on similar charges, according to news reports. Authorities extended Yaqublu’s pretrial detention several times during the year.

The independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel reported that the charges against the journalist were in connection with riots in Ismayilli on January 23, 2013. Thousands of residents demonstrated to demand a governor’s resignation after regional authorities refused to shut down a motel that was alleged to have housed a brothel, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. News reports said the motel, which protesters later burned, was said to belong to the family of a high-ranking government official. Authorities sent police to quell the demonstrations and more than 100 residents were detained, the radio station’s Azeri service said.

Rauf Ariforglu, Yeni Musavat’s chief editor, told Kavkazsky Uzel that his newspaper sent Yaqublu to report on the riots and that the journalist had his press card with him at the time of his arrest. Emin Huseynov, head of the local press freedom organization Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, confirmed that Yaqublu was in the town to report on the unrest, telling CPJ that staff members saw the journalist working there.

On March 17, 2014, a regional court in Ismayilli convicted Yaqublu of mass disorder and sentenced him to five years in prison, according to news reports. His appeal was denied in September 2014. He was being held at Prison No. 13 in late 2014, Kavkazsky Uzel reported.

In April 2015, authorities briefly released Yaqublu to attend the funeral of his 26-year-old daughter, reports said. He returned to prison a week later. CPJ could not determine the details of Yaqublu’s 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.