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AbzasMedia deputy director charged in ongoing crackdown

24 November 2023
Mahammad Kekalov. Image via social media.

AbzasMedia’s deputy director has been remanded into pre-trial detention on charges of smuggling money, as police continue to interrogate the organisation’s journalists.

On Thursday, the Khatai District Court ordered that Mahammad Kekalov be placed in four months of pre-trial detention on charges of smuggling as part of a group.

He was the third person to be charged so far in the ongoing crackdown on AbzasMedia, an independent news outlet.

Police claim to have found €40,000 ($44,000) in cash while raiding AbzasMedia’s offices on Monday. The outlet has accused the authorities of planting the money in order to falsify the charges.

Kekalov and AbzasMedia’s director, Ulvi Hasanli, were both detained on Monday, while the organisation’s editor-in-chief, Sevinj Vagifgizi, was detained the following day.

Kekalov’s whereabouts had for days been unknown, leading to speculation from local activists that police could be pressuring him to testify against his colleagues. His lawyer, Rovshana Rahimli, told OC Media that she was only allowed to meet Kekalov three days after his arrest, after which he said that he did not want her to legally represent him.

She added that she could not talk with him privately, and that a police investigator was present during their meeting, preventing him from answering some of her questions.

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‘The duration of our meeting was very short. Mahammad said that he did not commit any crime and that he does not consider himself guilty in any way’, Rahimli told OC Media. ‘He asked me to send his regards to his family and friends on his behalf.’

Rahimli said that Kekalov would be represented by a state-appointed lawyer.

Kekalov is also disability rights activist and the founder of an accessible fashion brand with clothing lineups that cater to the needs of people with disabilities.

On Friday morning, the Baku Police Department summoned Hasanli’s wife, Rubaba Guliyeva, as a witness in the case. They also called in AbzasMedia journalists Mina Alyarli and Elnara Gasimova for interrogation.

They had also summoned two other journalists, Sahila Aslanova and Nargiz Absalamova, to testify in the case the day before.