IRFS condemns increased government’s crackdown on blogs and other social media
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) is deeply troubled by the recent kidnapping and arrest of an Azerbaijani activist with the NIDA youth movement, Zaur Gurbanli and calls for his immediate release.
The Azerbaijani government must end its campaign against those exercising their right to free expression.
IRFS believes that one of the main reasons behind Gurbanli’s arrest is his blog posts criticizing the government’s corruption and nepotism. The fact that Gurbanli’s laptop and NIDA materials, including promotional flyer with the “I would go in 2013… if you join the NIDA” slogan were seized during his arrest suggests that he has been targeted for his political activity.
IRFS is also concerned over the Interior Ministry’s statement on Gurbanli’s arrest which claims Zaur Gurbanli was being investigated for his allegedly illegal drug activities and that "illegal documents and objects" were found in his office. “resisting arrest”. The Interior Ministry report follows that Gurbanli was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest by the Absheron Regional Court on September 29. IRFS reminds that Zaur Gurbanli was held incommunicado until 1 October, when his lawyer was granted access. He discovered that Zaur Gurbanli had been handed 15 days in prison on Article 310.1 on the administrative charge of resisting arrest.
IRFS states that there are enough arguments to believe that Zaur Gurbanli is being targeted because if his criticism of the government and for the peaceful expression of his opinions: (i) drug charges have already become a common tool of the Azerbaijani authorities to arrest political activists and journalists, (ii) the law-enforcement agencies did not inform Gurbanli’s relatives and the public about his arrest during the first two days, and (iii) despite of being sentenced to administrative arrest, Gurbanli is currently held in the custody of the Organized Crime Unit of the Interior Ministry. There have previously been reports of torture against persons whilst in the custody of the Organized Crime Unit.
IRFS condemns increased government’s crackdown on blogs and other social media, viewing them as potential platforms for dissent, and has engaged in a targeted campaign to silence its critics. IRFS reminds that, another youth activist, multi-media journalist, Mehman Huseynov, 23, is currently being tried on bogus hooliganism charges brought in retaliation for his online activity. IRFS calls on the government to drop charges against Gurbanli and Huseynov and all those exercising their right to free expression, which is the universal rightthat applies to all forms of media, no matter whether online or offline.