A court in Baku has sentenced the financial director of an Azerbaijani newspaper to three years and three months in prison, on what he calls bogus charges.
On 24 July, the Sabail District Court found Faig Amirli, financial director of Azadlig and an assistant to the chair of the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, guilty of tax evasion and abuse of power. Amirli was also fined ₼39,000 ($23,000).
Amirli was detained on 20 August 2016 for allegedly instigating ‘inter-religious hostility’ and ‘infringing on the rights of citizens under the pretext of performing religious rituals’.
The authorities accused him of possessing banned and illegally imported books related to Fethullah Gülen, the US-based imam whom Turkey accuses of organising the failed July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
Amirli has denied any links with Gülen or his movement, Hizmet.
In April 2017, he was charged with tax evasion and abuse of power, and the previous charges against him were dropped, according to Azerbaijani news outlet Contact.az.
‘These accusations have absolutely nothing to do with Amirli’, Contact.az quoted Amirli’s lawyer, Agil Layijov, as saying.
American rights group Human Rights Watch has condemned his arrest and prosecution. According to them, a state-run printing house refused to publish Azadlig in September after the newspaper failed to pay off their debt to the company following Amirli’s detention, resulting in the indefinite suspension of Azadlig’s print edition.
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.