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Journalist detained in Azerbaijan for ‘extortion’

21 February 2017
Elchin Ismayilli (Youtube/Kend.info)

Elchin Ismayilli, a journalist residing and working in the Ismayilli District of Azerbaijan, was arrested on 17 February charged with extortion, committed repeatedly, and abuse of power. Ismayilli denies the accusations and says his detention is connected to his work as a journalist.

According to the authorities, Ismayilli threatened to smear an official from the Tourism and Culture Department of Ismayilli District unless he handed over money. Ismayilli was arrested while receiving the money.

However, he says the case against him is fabricated. According to Ismayilli, he has known the alleged victim since 2003, and they had a good relationship. ‘A month ago, Elchin asked to borrow ₼1,000 ($560) from him. Two days prior to his arrest, the man said the he could lend the money to Elchin, and that’s when he was detained’, Caucasian Knot quoted Ismayilli’s lawyer as saying. According to the lawyer, Ismayilli refrained from naming the official who transferred the money.

Ismayilli is also a member of a political party, the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA). The Deputy Chairman of the PFPA, Gozal Bayramly, told Caucasian Knot that Ismayilli was arrested for ‘having denounced the illegal actions of officials’. ‘Generally speaking, Elchin always wrote about illegality, unresolved social problems, violations of local residents’ rights’, he added.

Ismayilli has worked for several media outlets in the country, including Radio Azadlyg, the Azerbaijani arm of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Caucasian Knot reported that Ismayilli was attacked by unidentified individuals in the village of Buynuz in Ismayilli District on 26 May 2014, while investigating a complaint by villagers about a local restaurant that was connected to the local water network, leaving villagers with no water.

On 2 June 2015, he was detained in the town of Ismayilli charged with disobeying the police, but the court issued him with a warning and released him.

MeydanTV reported that Ismayilli’s case was referred to the Investigation of Grave Crimes Department of the General Prosecutor's Office of Azerbaijan. On 18 February, Nasimi District Court ordered he by detained for 24 days as preventive measure. He is at the Kurdakhany detention centre.

Ismayilli’s case comes at a time when Azerbaijan is facing criticism internationally for cracking down on media freedom. In January 2017, American rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that independent media outlets faced harassment and closure, and critical journalists faced threats and intimidation aimed at silencing them.

The government continued its thorough crackdown on dissenting voices throughout 2016, leaving a wide gap in Azerbaijan’s once vibrant independent civil society, HRW mentioned in its annual report. According to HRW, despite releasing 17 human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists imprisoned on politically motivated charges, at least 25 government critics remain wrongfully imprisoned, including political activists and bloggers arrested in 2016.

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