INSTITUTE FOR REPORTERS’ FREEDOM AND SAFETY STATEMENT ON ARREST OF YOUTH ACTIVIST

February 8th, 2011
Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) is concerned about the arrest of youth activist Jabbar Savalanli, a member of Azerbaijan Popular Front Party Youth Committee.

According to official reports, Jababr Savalanli was arrested and taken to Sumgayit City Police Office on February 5. At the police station, 0.74 grams of marajuana was found when his clothes were searched. Yesterday, the Sumgayit District Court sentenced Savalanli to 2 months of pre-trial detention.
IRFS would like to record that several of Savalanli’s procedural rights were violated. He was not provided with a lawyer, and the search was conducted in the absence of any legal representation. Moreover, the lawyers hired for Savalanli were not allowed to meet with him until February 7.
During yesteday’s hearing, in a conversation with Savalanli’s mother, a plain-clothed police officer told her that her son was a drug addict, and he had been arrested on those grounds. This is a violation of the assumption of innocence.
IRFS believes that Savalanli’s arrest is politically motivated – the consequence of his political beliefs and his criticism of the ruling regime on social networking sites like Facebook. A content analysis of Savalanli’s Facebook profile shows that he posted material criticizing high ranking officials, including the President Ilham Aliyev, calling for their resignation.
IRFS would like to point out that these kinds of charges are not without precendent; similar fabricated charges have been brought against other dissidents in the past: Azadlig reporter and satirical journalist Mirza Sakit and, Gundelik Azerbaijan and Realniy Azerbaidjan editor Eynulla Fatullayev were both hit with drug possession charges, while youth bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizadeh were convicted of hooliganism.
IRFS calls upon the Azerbaijani authorities to put an end to the persecution of critical citizens. IRFS also calls upon international community to raise awareness of this issue, and demand the Azerbaijani government to halt its stranglehold on freedom  of expression.