Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal by blogger Mehman Huseynov on Monday, upholding his prison sentence for defamation. His lawyer, Fuad Aghayev, said he intends to take the case to European Court of Human Rights. Huseynov did not attend the hearing as a sign of protest.
Huseynov was sentenced in March 2017 to two years in prison on charges of ‘defamation, connected to an accusation of a serious or especially serious crime’. The charges were brought in a lawsuit by the head of the Nasimi District Police after Huseynov accused the police of abducting and torturing him.
Huseynov claimed he was abducted in the centre of Baku, a bag placed over his head, and then tortured by Nasimi District Police in January 2017. The police denied he was tortured, insisting he was arrested for ‘hooliganism’ and ‘disobeying police’.
His defence unsuccessfully argued that the accusation had no legal basis as only a person can file a suit for defamation, not the head of the police in the name of the government agency.
This was Huseynov’s second appeal to the Supreme Court, after the court previously returned the case to the Court of Appeals and requested a renewed investigation, including the examination of CCTV footage from the Nasimi District Police Station. In December, the Court of Appeals upheld his original sentence.
Huseynov’s lawyers said that in its second ruling, the Supreme Court disregarded its own previous decision in favour of a renewed enquiry.
On World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, more than 30 local and international rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders, called on the Azerbaijani authorities to ‘immediately and unconditionally release Mehman Huseynov and hold to account those responsible for the torture and other ill-treatment he was subjected to’.
[Read on OC Media: The Afgan Mukhtarli case: an investigation stalled?]
‘A travesty of justice’
Rights activists and supporters had expressed a hope Huseynov would be among those released by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in his annual pardons. However, the decree issued by Aliyev in May omitted him as well as several other high profile activists, including Afghan Mukhtarli, an investigative journalist abducted in Tbilisi, and prominent government critic Ilgar Mammadov.
Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus Director at Human Rights Watch, described the latest ruling as ‘a travesty of justice’. Gogia told OC Media Huseynov’s imprisonment was intended to ‘silence one of the country’s most outspoken journalists and bloggers’.
‘[This is] another step by the Azerbaijani authorities to retaliate against him for his critical journalism and defiance, but also to deter others from seeking justice for police abuse, a persistent and well-documented problem in Azerbaijan’, Gogia said. He also urged Azerbaijan’s international partners of to demand his ‘immediate and unconditional release’. ‘No business as usual is sustainable with Azerbaijan under the circumstances where Baku blatantly disrespects fundamental rights’ he added.
[Read on OC Media: A government’s fear or bargaining chips — Political prisoners in Azerbaijan]
Speaking to Caucasus Knot, Rasul Jafarov, chair of local rights group the Human Rights Club, said the case was ‘fabricated’ and that Huseynov was being persecuted ‘for his video reports that exposed luxury life of public servants and MPs’. Prior to his arrest, Huseynov replaced his brother Emin as chair of the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS), who according to Jafarov, was forced to flee the country and receive political asylum abroad.