Baku Court of Appeals has released Faig Amirli, financial director of Azerbaijani newspaper Azadlig, from custody with a suspended sentence.
On 15 September, the court decided to let Amirli walk free from prison, but did not drop the charges against him.
His lawyer later said Amirli was only ‘partially satisfied’ with the decision, and swore to appeal the case to Azerbaijan’s highest Supreme Court, Caucasian Knot reported.
Amirli, who also served as an assistant to the chair of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA), was found guilty of ‘tax evasion and abuse of power’ in July. Although he maintained his innocence, he was sentenced to more than three years in prison. PFPA members claim they have faced unfair prosecution, as a number of them have been detained.
Amirli was detained on 20 August 2016 accused of possessing banned and illegally imported books on Fethullah Gülen, the US-based imam whom Turkey accuses of organising the failed July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. He was charged with instigating ‘inter-religious hostility’ and ‘encroachment on the rights of citizens under the pretext of performing religious rites’
These charges were dropped in April 2017 and new charges of tax evasion and abuse of power brought. Sabail District Court sentenced him to three years and three months in prison on 24 July, and fined him ₼39,000 ($23,000).
According to rights group Amnesty International, Azerbaijani authorities are ‘continuing to use the same charges to arrest and silence government critics’.
After Azerbaijan came under international pressure the last week, Baku’s Yasamal District Court released Mehman Aliyev, head of independent news outlet the Turan Information Agency, from pretrial detention, placing him under house arrest. The charges against him are still pending.
On the same day, President Ilham Aliyev signed an order pardoning blogger Aleksandr Lapshin, who was imprisoned for visiting Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova has claimed on Facebook that 19 political prisoners have been released recently, but added that ‘there are still more than 130 political prisoners in Azerbaijan’.
For years Azerbaijan has been criticised for its dismal record on media freedom and repression of journalists, the media, and opposition figures by a number of international watchdogs, including Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, and the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety.