Baku’s Yasamal District Court released Mehman Aliyev, head of independent news outlet the Turan Information Agency, from pretrial detention on 11 September, placing him under house arrest. The charges against him are still pending.
The news comes the same day that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev pardoned Aleksandr Lapshin, a blogger imprisoned for visiting Nagorno-Karabakh.
‘I was ready for everything’, Aliyev told Radio Azadlig, RFE/RL’s local service.
Caucasian Knot quoted Aliyev’s lawyer, Fuad Aghayev, as saying that they will continue to fight the charges against him.
According to Azerbaijani presidential aide Ali Hasanov, Aliyev appealed to the president to move him to house arrest, Caucasian Knot wrote.
Azerbaijan’s Taxes Ministry opened an investigation into the Turan Information Agency on 7 August, and on 16 August raided their offices in Baku, confiscating financial, work, and personal records, and freezing their accounts.
Aliyev was summoned to the ministry for questioning on 24 August, where he was arrested and taken to Baku’s Yasamal District Police Station, where he was charged with ‘tax evasion’ and ‘abuse of power’.
[Read on OC Media: Head of Azerbaijan’s Turan news agency detained]
Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova has claimed on Facebook that 19 political prisoners have been released over the last three days. ‘There are still about 130 political prisoners in Azerbaijan’, she added.
On 11 September, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev signed an order pardoning blogger Aleksandr Lapshin, who was imprisoned for for visiting Nagorno-Karabakh.
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.
Azerbaijan has come under international pressure in the last week over allegations it paid bribes to a number of high level European and UN politicians in exchange for favourable treatment. An investigation from the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and others revealed that Azerbaijani authorities laundered almost $3 billion in the UK between 2012–2014, which was reportedly used to make the illicit payments. The Council of Europe has launched an investigation into the scandal.