Journalist Mehman Huseynov Sentenced to Two Years on Fabricated Charges

Civil Rights Defenders calls upon the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately release Mehman Huseynov, a prominent blogger and Chairperson of the press freedom organiSation, the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety, who was sentenced to two years imprisonment on spurious charges of defamation. The lawsuit was brought by the chief of police in Baku’s Nasimi District after Huseynov publicly spoke out about his torture by district officers in January 2017. Huseynov was immediately taken into custody directly from the courtroom.

Mehman Huseynov is Azerbaijan’s most popular political blogger, and his blog, Sancaq, has an audience of hundreds of thousands on Facebook, where his critical reporting has irritated the government to the extent that parliament has discussed finding a way to ban him from the internet. He has also been subjected to a travel ban for the past five years and does not possess international or domestic travel documents, leading to a farcical exchange in this latest case where the court was forced to confirm his identity via press photographs.

“We are not one of those sell-out television channels or a water tap for you to open and close. In order to close Sancaq, you would need to cut off the internet entirely. You are saying that we expose public officials’ faults. Is it a crime to film and show officials’ arbitrariness, lawlessness in the country, bribery and false elections,” stated Mehman Huseynov in September of last year.

On the evening of 9 January, Huseynov was detained by plainclothes police for reasons that are unclear, blindfolded, and driven around for several hours before been taken to the Nasimi District Police Department. While in custody he was repeatedly subjected to electric shocks, and later lost consciousness. His injuries were clearly visible during the initial hearing, and he described his ordeal in detail in a widely-watched and emotional post-release interview with the online media outlet Meydan TV. In response, the chief of police of Nasimi District accused Huseynov of libel.

“The sentencing of Mehman Huseynov is a shock, but also unfortunately part of the Azerbaijani government’s recent steps to silence any and all critical voices. As a member of the Council of Europe, a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and numerous other treaties, Azerbaijan has committed itself to respect the basic human rights of its citizens, and this decision reflects yet another gross violation,” said Joanna Kurosz, Eurasia Programme Director, Civil Rights Defenders.

Huseynov has faced constant pressure over the years to cease his blogging activities, and he is far from being alone. Azerbaijan has been lashing out at journalists and activists more aggressively than usual in the last several months, including detaining and harassing relatives of a prominent exile blogger, interrogating journalists of the independent newspaper Azadliq, and forcing political activists to delete critical posts on social media.

As with most politically-motivated cases in Azerbaijan, the presiding judge appeared to be more concerned with securing a conviction quickly than with constitutional procedure, according to observers and Huseynov’s lawyer, Elchin Sadigov.

“The court did not accept any of the defence’s motions,” Sadigov wrote in a post on Facebook published shortly after the verdict, “the defence asked for a week to prepare a final statement; the court did not even grant us thirty minutes and demanded a speech immediately. The judgement came five minutes after the Mehman Huseynov’s final statement … he was strong and knew he would arrested.”

Civil Rights Defenders condemns the politically motivated and spurious conviction, and calls on the government of Azerbaijan to immediately overturn the conviction, release Huseynov, return his travel documents, and cease harassing him and other independent media in the country. We also call upon foreign governments, especially members of the Council of Europe, and international organisations to hold Azerbaijan to its international commitments and end its persecution of civil society.