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Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns the Azerbaijani authorities for the politically motivated arrests of journalists Ikram Rahimov and Polad Aslanov and calls on the authorities to stop putting pressure on freedom of speech and release all imprisoned for their professional activities of the media.
The IRFS is seriously concerned that the State Security Service of Azerbaijan is directly involved in the arrest of Editor-in-chief of the website realliq.info Ikram Rahimov, and sentencing him to 5.5 years in prison on trumped-up charges of “Extortion by threats” (Article 182 of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan) as well as detention on the dubious accusations of “High Treason” (Article 274 of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan) chief editor and founder of the xeberman.com and press-az.com sites Polad Aslanov.
“The fact that the leading secret service of Azerbaijan arrests a journalist on clearly fabricated charges of petty extortion raises many questions. Serious suspicions on the part of civil society are caused by the fact that the service, which must lead the fight against terror and other serious crimes aimed against state security, is involved in arresting a journalist of clearly alien competence, failing to even prove his guilt, ”the Executive Director of the IRFS Emin Husenyov.
Even greater questions are raised by the fact that on the day of the announcement of the verdict to Ikram Rahimov on June 12, 2019, the State Security Service conducts another “valiant operation” and detains journalist Polad Aslanov on fabricated, but already with a more serious accusation – of high treason.
It is obvious that the secret services of Azerbaijan, in order to intimidate the journalistic community, using the example of Ikram Rahimov and Polad Aslanov, show all media representatives that they can arrest any of them, accusing them of petty extortion to treason.
“Against the background of the tense social economic and political situation in the country, the authorities of Azerbaijan will continue and intensify attacks on unwanted media representatives by prior discrediting and further arrest using the old proven principle – there is no sense to put a journalist without spoiling his reputation before that,” Huseynov summed up.
The IRFS called cynical the latest statement by the Azerbaijani authorities about the start of a new course of political reforms against the background of increasing criminal defamation and other trumped-up accusations against media representatives.
IRFS is sure that the stated reform course is nothing more than intentional decoration of the authorities aimed at misleading the international community on the eve of signing the agreement on “strategic cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan”, which will allow the authorities of Azerbaijan to facilitate access to European and Western financial instruments.
IRFS calls on authorities to immediately release from all detained and arrested journalists, including Afgan Mukhtarly, Seymour Hezi, Elchin Ismayilli, Zia Asadli, Araz Guliyev, Ikram Rahimov and Polad Aslanov.
The IRFS calls on Azerbaijan’s western partners to closely monitor the situation and condemn new attacks by the authorities against freedom of expression, as well as support the Azerbaijani human rights community, which lately due to a lack of institutional resources is unable to respond promptly to the increasing attacks against media representatives.
June 20, 2019