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Azerbaijan’s human rights blogger Omar Mammadov was convicted to a five-year jail term in Baku last Friday of drug dealing in a ruling that Institute for Reporters’ Freedom of Safety (IRFS) believes is an extremely disturbing sign for the future of Azerbaijan’s Internet. Omar Mammadov had been behind bars since January. The 19 year old blogger has steadfastly denied the charges, and the prosecution put forth no evidence to support the allegations.
On 24 January, 2014 Omar Mammadov was on his way to the dentist when he was detained by officers of the Ministry of Interior. He was charged with drug possession (Article 234.4.3 of the Criminal Code). Prosecutors were largely criticized for presenting evidence that was purportedly made up, both by IRFS researchers and independent observers that monitored the trial.
Omar Mammadov is a founding member of the Akhin (Current) Movement and a member of N!DA youth movement. Mammadov was an active blogger and a former administrator of a satirical Facebook page AZTVdən Seçmələr (Selections from AzTv). Through Selections from AzTv Facebook page, Mammadov disseminated information and images that were critical of the government to its 57,000 followers. In his blog (http://omar-mamedov.blogspot.com) Mammadov posted critical comments about violations of freedom of assembly, police brutality and other human rights abuses committed by Azerbaijan’s authorities.
“We have free Internet”, said Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev addressing the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on June 24. IRFS reminds that, to fully realize the Internet’s potential for development, President and his government must first provide ability to seek and distribute information online without fear of reprisal. While Azerbaijani government actively promotes the expansion of Internet and ICT services in order to support economic development , the bloggers and online activists that dare to criticize the authorities or report on human rights abuses and corruption face harassment or imprisonment. The government of Azerbaijan has a poor and worsening record of the Internet freedom with six bloggers and online activists languishing behind bars on fantastic charges of drug possession and hooliganism.
“All at IRFS are dismayed at last week unjust sentencing of Omar Mammadov”, IRFS CEO Emin Huseynov said. “Omar Mammadov’s conviction is an incredibly disturbing sign for the future of Azerbaijan’s Internet. We firmly condemn this verdict. This 5-year jail term on fabricated drug charge illustrates Azerbaijan’s government trend to imprison those who dare to speak out in order to intimidate the rest. We call for the immediate release of Omar Mammadov and other ten bloggers and journalists”, Huseynov said.
IRFS reiterate its call on the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure in all circumstances that journalists and bloggers are able to carry out their legitimate activities both online and offline without any hindrance and fear of reprisals, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.