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Azerbaijan seeks arrest of critics abroad

10 September 2020

The authorities in Azerbaijan have said they have applied for Interpol red notices for the arrest of seven political refugees living outside of the country.

In a statement on Tuesday, the General Prosecutor’s Office said the case involved an investigation into blogger Elvin Isaev.

Isayev was extradited to Azerbaijan from Ukraine in December where he was arrested on arrival. The Azerbaijani Migration Service said at the time that Isayev was deported for violating Ukrainian immigration law.

Isayev’s family and friends have claimed he was kidnapped in Ukraine at the behest of the Azerbaijani authorities because of his publications criticising the Azerbaijani authorities.

[Read more on OC Media: Ukraine deports critical Azerbaijani blogger shortly before Zelensky visits Baku

Several of the migrants targeted by the red notices have also said the aim of their extradition was to silence their criticism online of the Azerbaijani authorities. 

According to Tuesday’s statement from the Prosecutor’s Office, Isayev was charged with incitement to riots, disobeying police, violence within an organised group, open calls against the state from abroad, and conspiracy to do so.

The Prosecutor’s Office stated that seven other political emigrants participated in these ‘criminal acts’. These included exiled blogger Ordukhan Babirov, social media activist Tural Sadigli, Gurban Mammadov, Orkhan Agayev, Rafael Piriyev, Ali Hasanaliyev, Suleyman Suleymanli, and other people ‘whose identities were unknown to the investigation’. 

All of the people named are known for their criticism of the Azerbaijani government. 

This is not the first time Azerbaijan has used the Interpol red notice system to seek the extradition of political refugees abroad. 

[Read from our partners at oDR: Revenge by red notice: how Azerbaijan targets its critics abroad]

According to Interpol, they do not ask law enforcement agencies to arrest anyone who is in the Red Notice list. 

Interpol’s website states that ‘each member country decides what legal value it gives to a Red Notice and the authority of their law enforcement officers to make arrests.’ 

‘Their goal is to completely silence different opinions’

Tural Sadigli, the editor-in-chief of Azad Soz (Free Speech), a social media-based news outlet, told OC Media that this was not the first time his name was put on an international wanted list. 

‘In 2019, a criminal case was started against me in Baku in relation to other articles [of the criminal code],’ Sadigli said. 

‘I was told that I am [now] also on the Interpol list […] I was slightly surprised. They can’t reach us, they cannot stop our activities, so they use such forms of pressure.’ 

Sadigli called the allegations against him ‘absurd’. 

‘I am facing these allegations and being persecuted by the Azerbaijani government for my work on Azad Soz, one of the free media outlets operating abroad, simply because it is restricted in Azerbaijan’, he concluded. 

Like Sadigli, Ordukhan Babirov denied the allegations to OC Media, calling them ‘nonsense’. 

Orkhan Aghayev, whose name was also on the Prosecutor’s Office list, also called the allegations ‘absurd’, saying they were brought against him because of his work as a blogger. 

He told OC Media that the Azerbaijani government tried to persecute Azerbaijani citizens both inside and outside the country. 

‘Their goal is to completely silence differing opinions. Until now, Afgan Mukhtarli, Huseyn Abdullayev, Elvin Isayev, Rauf Mirkadirov have been brought to Azerbaijan from abroad and arrested. Dashgin Agalarli has been detained by Interpol in Poland for 8 months. And now the government has targetted us’, he said.

‘People’s journalism’

Anar Mammadli, the head of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDS), a local rights group, told OC Media that the Azerbaijani government had an ‘uncompromising attitude towards immigrant groups operating abroad’. 

‘They [Azerbaijani’s abroad] can influence public opinion in Azerbaijan using different online programmes and statements. They play a role in forming hatred, anger, protests, and an uncompromising attitude of people towards the government’.

‘These people are using slightly untraditional methods. First of all, they are neither professional media outlets nor professional journalists. They instead use a method of people’s journalism or citizen journalism. And this is a tactic that is unacceptable for the government’, he said. 

Mammadli said that putting emigrants on the international wanted list was unlikely to achieve anything for the government, calling such tactics ‘Post-Soviet’ and ‘obsolete’. 

‘Each of these people lives in democratically developed Western countries. Their extradition to Azerbaijan’s government is not an easy issue. I don’t think it’s possible. They [the Azerbaijani authorities] are simply trying to tarnish their reputation’, he concluded.

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