IRFS STATEMENT ON MEDIA REPRESENTATIVES JAILED IN RELATION TO GUBA PROTESTS

March 24th, 2012
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety condemns the arrest of regional Khayal TV station’s employees Vugar Gonagov and Zaur Guliyev, and deems this an act of pressure against freedom of expression.

On March 13th, Xayal TV channel executive director Vugar Gonagov and editor-in-chief Zaur Guliyev were detained by law-enforcement agencies in Guba and taken to Baku. A criminal case was launched against them by the Department of Investigation on Grave Crimes at the General Prosecutor’s Office, under charges of organizing and involvement in social disorder (Article 233 of Criminal Code) and abuse of power (Article 309.2). The Court of Grave Crimes sentenced both journalists to 2 months pre-trial detention.

 

IRFS notes that the arrests of the journalist took place in a clandestine manner. In fact, the relatives and colleagues of the journalists did not know until yesterday who had detained them, nor why they had been detained.

 

Since the arrest, their lawyers have not been allowed to meet with them. Today, Vugar Gonagov’s lawyer Elchin Sadigov, despite having presented all the necessary documents, was refused a meeting. Another discouraging fact is that the two will immediately be transferred to Kurdakhani Investigative Prison. They are currently being held in the Interior Ministry’s Department against Organized Crime, which is notorious for abusing detainees.

 

IRFS believes that the journalists were arrested under the suspicion of posting former executive head of Guba region Rauf Habibov’s speech onto Youtube. This speech was the catalyst for the mass protests held in Guba on March 1.

 

At present, though Azerbaijani TV channels are under governmental control, some journalists use Youtube and other video hosting services to post scenes that they cannot otherwise broadcast.

IRFS believes that it is inadmissible to arrest journalists for posting videos even if they contribute to protest actions. According to the precedents of the European Court of Human Rights, journalists are entitled even to disseminate information that might shock the society; freedom of expression is enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

 

IRFS notes with concern and regret that the number of jailed journalists in Azerbaijan now stands at 7.

 

IRFS believes that the charges brought against the journalists are absolutely groundless and aimed at silencing the journalists.

 

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately release Vugar Gonagov, Zaur Guliyev, Avaz Zeynalli, Aydin Janiyev, Ramin Bayramov, Anar Bayramli and Ramin Dadashov.

 

BACKGROUND

On March 1st Guba erupted in protest against a speech made by former Guba Executive Head Ruf Habibov. The speech, where Habibov said that, “Guba residents sell their children and motherland for 30-40 AZN,” was posted on the internet and spread via social networking sites. The resulting protests saw Habibov’s house set on fire, and numerous confrontations between protesters and the police.