Elchin Ismayilli, a political activist and journalist in Azerbaijan’s Ismayilli District, who had been charged with extortion and abuse of power in February, faces at least ten years in prison after the prosecutor’s office changed the charge to bribery. The court hearing is set for 24 August. Ismayilli pleads innocent.
The new charge against Elchin Ismayilli was brought forth as the preliminary investigation was completed by 3 August, Ismayilli’s lawyer Elchin Sadigov told Caucasian Knot. Sadigov claims that the evidence has been forged, and the new charge is aimed at aggravating the punishment his client faces.
According to Sadigov, the first court hearing on 15 August was held without his presence in Shaki District Court. He claims that he was notified about the time of the hearing only a few hours before it took place, but due to the distance between Shaki and Baku (roughly 300 km), he wasn’t able to make it on time.
On 18 August, he was restricted from meeting his client in the pre-trial detention centre in Shaki. The lawyer called the decision ‘illegal’.
‘Prosecuted for critical publications’
According to the authorities, Ismayilli threatened to smear an official from the Tourism and Culture Department of Ismayilli District unless he handed over the money. Ismayilli was arrested while receiving the money.
Ismayilli, who has worked for several media outlets in the country, including Radio Azadlig, the Azerbaijani branch of RFE/RL, claims he knew the alleged victim for a long time and was only borrowing money from him. The activist claims to be prosecuted for his critical publications about officials from the Ismayilli District.
Ismayilli is a member of the political party, the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA). The Deputy Chairman of the PFPA, Gozal Bayramli, told Caucasian Knot in February that Ismayilli was arrested for ‘having denounced the illegal actions of officials’. ‘Generally speaking, Elchin always wrote about illegality, unresolved social problems, violations of local residents’ rights’, she added.
Bayramli was also detained on 25 May while crossing the Georgian–Azerbaijani border for allegedly smuggling €12,000 ($13,400) in cash. This happened 4 days before Afgan Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani journalist residing in Tbilisi, was abducted near his house and then detained for allegedly smuggling €10,000 ($11,200), border trespass, and disobeying border guards.
[For more details about Bayramli and Mukhtarli’s cases, read on OC Media:
- Baku Court denies appeal from jailed opposition politician
- Footage of Mukhtarli on night of his abduction ‘doctored’ as EU calls for answers]