Become an OC Media Member

Support independent journalism in the Caucasus: Join today

Become a member

Azerbaijan detains pro-democracy activist Anar Mammadli in AbzasMedia case

30 April 2024
Anar Mammadli is one of the founders of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre. Photo: Najmin Kamilsoy.

Azerbaijani police have arrested prominent pro-democracy activist Anar Mammadli as part of Azerbaijan’s crackdown on independent media outlet AbzasMedia.

Mammadli, the head of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre,  had his home raided by the police and was detained on Monday on charges of smuggling, according to his lawyer, Javad Javadov.

His relatives told AbzasMedia that he was being charged with smuggling as part of a group with AbzasMedia’s senior management and journalists who were detained in November 2023.

His lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, also speculated that Mammadli was detained as part of the same case against AbzasMedia, after the authorities barred him from representing Mammadli as he was also representing other people in the case.

AbzasMedia was the first media organisation to be targeted by the authorities in Azerbaijan in its latest media crackdown. In November 2023, the police raided their offices and detained their director, deputy director, and editor-in-chief, with several of their journalists following suit in the following months.

Sadigov was also turned away from Mammadli’s home as it was being raided by the police.

‘Even though I approached the house of Anar Mammadli with my lawyer’s order and license, the police still did not allow me to meet and participate in the raid with Anar Mammadli’, he wrote on Facebook.


During the raid, police confiscated his documents, computer, and other equipment. His family presumes that the police planted money in his home to falsify evidence of smuggling against him.

Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, Rachel Denber, condemned Mammadli’s arrest, calling for his immediate release.

The US Embassy in Azerbaijan told Voice of America that Washington condemned Mammadli’s arrest and expressed concern over the continuation of arrests of members of Azerbaijani civil society’. 

‘We call on the government of Azerbaijan to immediately release all the unjustly arrested persons. We continue to call on the government of Azerbaijan to respect human rights and the basic freedoms of all, including those who enjoy freedom of expression’, an embassy spokesperson told Voice of America.

Mammadli’s Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre is one of the few remaining independent election monitoring organisations in Azerbaijan. He is also one of the founders of the COP29 Community of Justice, an initiative created in February to ensure civil liberties and environmental justice.

Mammadli was previously arrested in 2013 and sentenced to five years and six months in prison on charges of tax evasion, abuse of power, and interfering in the results of elections. He maintained his innocence, claiming that he was arrested for his work monitoring the presidential elections that year.

He was released after being pardoned by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in 2016.

Speaking to OC Media about Azerbaijan’s latest crackdown on media in the country, Mammadli said that Azerbaijan’s legislation gives the government ample opportunity to target its critics.

‘When the government wants to arrest someone it will find a reason’.

[Read more: ‘My son is not a smuggler’: how Azerbaijan detains critics]