Azerbaijan arrests journalists following reports of presidential and governmental corruption News
congerdesign / Pixabay
Azerbaijan arrests journalists following reports of presidential and governmental corruption

Azerbaijan arrested the editor-in-chief Sevinj Vagifgizi and director Ulvi Hasanli of the privately-owned independent Abzas Media. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called for the release of the journalists and asked that Azerbaijan authorities “allow Abzas Media to continue its vital public interest reporting.”

Azerbaijan police detained Hasanli on Monday and then searched his apartment and Abzas’s Baku office. Police allegedly found 40,000 Euros belonging to Hasanli, which Hasanli claimed police planted to justify his arrest. On Tuesday, police arrested Vagifgizi at the Baku airport upon her return from a business trip and searched her home. Additionally, Hasanli’s assistant, Mahammad Kekalov, has been missing since Monday. He was taken from his home in Baku by individuals in civilian clothing.

On Tuesday, the district court of Baku charged the journalists with smuggling foreign currency and issued a decision to detain them for four months. If found guilty, they face up to eight years of imprisonment under Article 206.3.2 of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.

The journalists deny all allegations, branding the arrests as retaliation for Abzas Media’s investigations into corruption involving relatives of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and state officials. Abzas Media stated that the detention and searches were illegal.

This is not the first time journalists have faced repercussions for exposing government corruption in Azerbaijan. In 2020, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Khadija Ismayilova’s arrest and detention were an attempt to silence and punish her for criticizing the Azerbaijani government and examining the alleged involvement of Aliyev’s family in illegal business activities.

Aliyev has served as president of Azerbaijan since 2003, winning the election with 76 percent of votes. Before him, his father Heydar Aliyev ruled the country, not long after the collapse of the Soviet Union, from 1993 to 2003. Azerbaijan’s constitutional changes to extend the duration and terms of presidential office faced significant criticism in 2006. In 2021, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project reported that the Aliyev family holds hundreds of millions in foreign properties, offshore accounts and companies.