The OSCE Media Freedom representative, Harlem Désir, has called on Azerbaijani authorities to end ‘restrictive measures detrimental to journalists’ freedom and safety’. The following day, authorities in Baku arrested another journalist, editor-in-chief of the Khural newspaper, Avaz Zeynalov.
Désir expressed ‘grave concerns’ in his 18 December statement regarding the sentencing of Aziz Orujov, head of internet TV channel Kanal 13.
The Baku Court of Grave Crimes sentenced Orujov to six years in prison on 15 December on charges of ‘illegal entrepreneurship’ and ‘abuse of power’.
According to Caucasian Knot, Orujov’s lawyer Elchin Sadigov said before his sentencing that Orujov was not at all involved in the financial management of the organisations, which the authorities have claimed violated the law.
According to Caucasian Knot, Azerbaijani activists believe Kanal 13 faces the threat of closure, as it frequently gives floor to human rights activists and opposition figures in the country, which has been criticised for cracking down on independent voices.
Désir called on the authorities to review Orujov’s verdict and to ‘end restrictive measures detrimental to his freedom and safety’.
According to the OSCE statement, in a letter to the authorities of 30 November, Désir noted that there were repeated reports that the prosecution ‘has not submitted any evidence of Orujov’s guilt to the court’.
Désir pointed to allegations that the journalist was subject to ‘persecution because of his work on Kanal 13, known for its independent reporting’.
‘I am hopeful that this decision will be overturned during the appeals process’, Désir added.
Another journalist detained
On 19 December, Baku police detained Avaz Zeynalov, editor-in-chief of the Khural newspaper. Zeynalov had reportedly been broadcasting on social media about how police were closing the motorway ‘often without any need’. He was accused of disobeying police.
Caucasian Knot quoted his lawyer as saying that Zeynalov pleads innocent. The trial is set to kick off on 20 December.
Trial of abducted journalist Mukhtarli
The OSCE’s Désir also raised concerns about the ongoing trial of journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who was abducted in Tbilisi, Georgia on 29 May.
[Read on OC Media: Tbilisi-based Azerbaijani journalist abducted to Azerbaijan]
‘Notwithstanding the seriousness of reports that Mukhtarli was subject to attack and abduction, the spurious charges brought against him in Azerbaijan and the lack of evidence for keeping him in lengthy custody is troubling’, Désir said.
He urged the authorities to drop all charges against the journalist and respect his right to freedom of expression.