News editors arrested for ‘extortion’ in Azerbaijan

20 May 2020
Afghan Sadigov.

Two editors of media outlets in Azerbaijan have been arrested and charged with extortion.

Afghan Sadigov, an editor at news site Azel TV, and Sakit Muradov, the editor-in-chief of news site Xeberfakt, were arrested in Baku on 13 May.

According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the two men were arrested by the General Directorate for Combating Corruption while receiving a ₼10,000 ($6,000) bribe.

The Prosecutor General said the two met with officials from the Sumgayit City Executive Power on 9 May and demanded ₼15,000 ($8,900) in exchange for not publishing embarrassing information about them via scandalous articles in their media.

They said that while Sadigov had refused to cooperate with the investigation, Muradov had confessed to the crime. 

Sadigov’s lawyer, Zibeyda Sadigova, told Caucasian Knot that she had not been given an opportunity to speak with her client in private before appearing in court to defend him.

On 14 May, the Bİnagadi District Court remanded Sadigov into four months of pre-trial detention; his lawyer has vowed to appeal the decision.

Sadigov’s wife, Sevinj Sadigova, told Caucasian Knot that the case had been ‘fabricated’. 

‘Everything is built on a lie. Even when they came to our house to conduct a  search, knocking, they said that they were bringing the ₼190 ($110) [COVID-19 social assistance]. They turned our whole apartment upside down.’ 

‘They found that only ₼30 ($18) was in the house, does someone who is corrupt live like that? They demanded passwords for Facebook and YouTube from me. This suggests that Afghan is being prosecuted for criticising and exposing corrupt officials’, she said. 

A photo of the aftermath of the search shared online by journalist Afghan Mukhtarli.

She added that Sadigov had said as much in court. 

According to her, Sadigov met Muradov only recently; she also speculated that her husband ‘might be a part of a provocation’. 

OC Media was unable to reach Sakit Muradov for comment. 

Critical reporting

Sadigov has a long history of reporting critical of the government in Azerbaijan.

On 2 May Sadigov reported the alleged involvement of Sumgayit city officials in a lack of money being allocated for the construction of the Sumgayit Boulevard. 

On the day of his arrest, he published a post accusing the authorities of not properly investigating allegations of sexual assault by two sisters, one of whom was a minor, in the Lachin township in central  Azerbaijan’s Aghjabadi District. The area is primarily populated by Azeris displaced from Lachin District during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. 

The Prosecutor General denied these allegations, saying that during their investigation they found that the girls had not complained to law enforcement agencies in Aghjabadi District.

They accused Sadigov of previously disseminating ‘slanderous’ information about officials from the Lachin township, and said that two lawsuits against him are currently pending in the Jalilabad District Court. 

Sadigov was imprisoned in 2016 for two years and six months on charges of hooliganism and intentional infliction of minor bodily harm. His sentence was later reduced to one year. 

He has also been subject to administrative detention several times. 

He has repeatedly denied all the allegations against him, saying they were aimed to restrict his work as a journalist.

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