HRW and Article 19 call on Azerbaijan to release the jailed journalists
Human rights violations and especially media freedom violation in
“The Azerbaijani authorities should immediately allow two television journalists facing criminal charges access to their lawyer and family, and transfer them to a regular detention facility, Human Rights Watch and Article 19 said today. The authorities arrested the journalists, who are from the town of
Vugar Gonagov and Zaur Guliyev work for Xayal TV, a regional station based in Guba. They were detained on March 13, remanded for two months in pretrial detention, and transferred to the Interior Ministry in
“There is nothing that can explain or justify why the police have denied these journalists access to their families for two weeks, are holding them in a police cell, and won’t let their lawyer meet with them,” said Jane Buchanan, acting deputy director for Europe and
The day of the journalists’ detention, Musaffedin Guliyev, Zaur Guliyev’s father, received a phone call from an unidentified caller informing him that his son was being detained in the Guba prosecutor’s office. Musaffedin Guliyev told Human Rights Watch that he went to the prosecutor’s office on March 13 and again on March 14 but was not allowed to see his son. A state-appointed lawyer called him on March 19 informing him that his son had been remanded to pretrial detention. He had no opportunity to appoint an independent lawyer to represent his son at the remand hearing.
Since their remand to pretrial custody, Gonagov and Guliyev have been kept in a temporary cell in the Interior Ministry’s organized crime unit in
The journalists’ lawyer, Elchin Sadigov,has been refused access to them. On March 23, Sadigov, who initially represented Gonagov, but now represents both journalists, went to the organized crime unit and asked to see his client. The duty officer told Sadigov that he needed permission from the General Prosecutor’s Office. Although such a requirement has no basis in Azerbaijani law, Sadigov sought the permissions, but was told that because the unit chief was out for the Novruz Bayram New Year holiday, Sadigov should come back on March 27, and his request for access to his clients would be reviewed then.
When Sadigov returned to the organized crime unit on March 27 to see both Gonagov and Guliyev, he was again denied access. He said the officers there told him: “Why do you come so often? We’ll call you when you are needed. There hasn’t yet been approval from the investigators for you to visit [your clients].” Sadigov has also not had access to the criminal case materials, which will be crucial for him in preparing the journalists’ defense.
“Access to a lawyer is a fundamental right for any detainee, but the Azerbaijani authorities apparently think they are above the law,” Buchanan said. “The government needs to stop making excuses and immediately guarantee Gonagov and Guliyev their full rights.”
The journalists’ families have also not had any access to them. Guliyev’s father told Human Rights Watch that he went to the Kurdakhani Investigative Prison on March 20 and was told that Zaur was not there.The fatherthen searched for his son among the police stations in
On March 25, a representative of
Because Sadigov has notbeen granted access to the criminal case file, he does not know for certain which charges have been brought against the men. One of the journalist’s relatives was told by the state-appointed lawyer representing the journalists at the remand hearing that the men have been charged with organizing and involvement in social disorder and abuse of power.
The charges against Gonagov and Guliyev appear to be linked to their alleged posting on YouTube of a speech by a Guba official, which many believe was the catalyst for large protests in Guba on March 1. Guba residents apparently took to the streets in outrage over the speech in which the head of the Guba Executive Authority, Rauf Habibov, is alleged to have said, “Guba residents sell their children and the motherland for 30-40 Azerbaijani manat ($US38-50).” According to media reports, numerous confrontations between protesters and the police errupted that day and unknown people set Habibov’s house on fire.Habibov was subsequently fired.
Gonagov and Guliyev face up to three years in prison if convicted.
Azerbaijanhas a long history of arresting journalists on politically motivated charges or spurious charges, apparently in retaliation for their critical or investigative journalism. In addition to Gonagov and Guliyev, five other journalists are in prison or pretrial detention in
“It’s shocking that the number of journalists in custody in