Last week, Azerbaijani police arrested the head of independent Youtube news channel Kanal 11 and a prominent investigative journalist in connection with Abzas Media.
Both were placed in pre-trial detention from three to four months. Teymur Karimov, director of the channel has been accused of “extortion by threat”, while Hafiz Babali, investigative journalist is on “smuggling of foreign currency” charges.
As a result, currently the director, deputy director, editor in chief and two journalists from Abzas media are in pre-trial detention. If found guilty, all can face up to 8 years jail time. Not only Abzas Media, on 29 November, police also detained Aziz Orujov, the head of another independent Youtube news channel Kanal 13. In comparison to others, Orujov is facing charges of unauthorised construction on land without ownership, use or lease rights. The court ordered him three months in pre-trial detention, if proven guilty, he can be sentenced to three years in prison.
On 13 December, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued another press release regarding the arrests. According to Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York “by arresting widely respected investigative journalist Hafiz Babali, Azerbaijani authorities are only confirming that their real aim in targeting Abzas Media is to silence its uncompromising reporting on official corruption allegations”.
Following day, on 14 December, police also arrested well-known opposition activist Tofig Yagublu. According to Yagublu’s daughter, Nigar, police firstly searched their house but didn’t allow her to take part.
Later that day, Nigar Yagublu posted on her Facebook page writing police reportedly found 5 thousand euros, and nearly 1,500 us dollars [2500 AZN] and an unspecified amount of dollars at the family’s apartment. According to his lawyer Agil Layic, a criminal case was launched against Yagublu on charges of “fraud causing a large amount of damage” and “forgery, illegal preparation or sale of official documents, state awards, seals, stamps, blanks”. In an interview to Meydan TV, the lawyer said Tofig Yagublu rejects the accusations and links his arrest to his political activity.
If proven guilty, Yagublu can be sentenced from 5 to 10 years in prison.
On December 13 another activist Mohaddin Orujov was arrested for the second time, who has been released from 1 month of administrative detention recently. He was accused of drug trafficking and sent to 4 months of pre-trial detention.
The crackdown started on 20 November with the detention of Ulvi Hasanli, the head of Abzas Media. Since then, at least 11 journalists and activists were detained, and the majority of them faced criminal charges which resulted in around 3-4 months of pre-trial detention.
In the middle of a media crackdown, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has ordered the presidential election to be held earlier than scheduled on 7 February.