Azerbaijan: Arbitrary detention and criminalisation of Elchin Sadigov and Avaz Zeynalli

15/09/2022
Urgent Appeal
Hikmat Gafarzada

AZE 002 / 0922 / OBS 070
Arbitrary detention / 
Judicial harassment
Azerbaijan
September 15, 2022

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Azerbaijan.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the arbitrary arrest of independent journalist Avaz Zeynalli and human rights lawyer Elchin Sadigov. Mr. Zeynalli is the owner and editor-in-chief of Xural, an independent news outlet. Mr. Sadigov is well-known lawyer, advocating for the rights of political prisoners, journalists and victims of human rights violations in the country.

On September 7, 2022, pro-government news website Haqqin published an article falsely accusing Avaz Zeynalli of extorsion. The news outlet alleged that Mr. Zeynalli extorted 20,000 manats (approximately 11,760 Euros) from the family of a jailed businessman Rasim Mammadov. The latter is currently tried for embezzlement, and according to the news outlet, the money sought to stop negative coverage of his case. The outlet went on to accuse Elchin Sadigov of acting as an intermediary in the alleged extorsion.

On September 10, 2022, following the allegations in the news outlet, officers from the Prosecutor General’s Office arrested Mr. Zeynalli in a restaurant in Baku. The officers then took him to Xural´s office, searched the office building and confiscated documents and hard-drives. They further searched Mr. Zeynalli´s house and confiscated a computer and books. That same day, officers from the Prosecutor General’s Office arrested Mr. Sadigov, searched his home and his office, where they confiscated documents and his mobile phone.

On September 11, 2022 Binagadi district court in Baku charged Mr. Zeynalli with “large-scale bribe-taking” and Mr. Sadigov with “complicity in bribe-taking”. Both charges carry penalties of between eight and 12 years in prison under Article 311.3.3 of the Criminal code of Azerbaijan. Prosecutors brought the charges based solely on Haqqin news article from September 7, 2022, as no official complaint has been filed against Messrs. Zeynalli and Sadigov by Mr. Mammadov or his family.

The same day Binagadi ditrict court ordered the detention of the two defendants for two months. Mr. Zeynalli and Mr. Sadigov are being held in the detention center of the State Security Service in Baku, while according to Azerbaijani legislation they should be awaiting trial in the pre-trial detention center.

The Observatory recalls that Mr. Zenyalli had previously served three years following an unjust nine-year prison sentence in 2012 on charges of “bribery”, “extortion” and “tax evasion”. The conviction was in retaliation for his refusal to accept money from a pro-government politician in exchange for his newspaper’s favorable coverage of the authorities. The trial was marred with procedural irregularities and lack of evidence and could not be considered a fair trial.

The Observatory further recalls and deplores the serious and widespread abuses and intimidation of independent journalists and human rights activists in Azerbaijan, where a decades-long crackdown on human rights defenders has considerably curtailed civic space in the country.

The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over the arbitrary detention and criminalisation of Avaz Zeynalli and Elchin Sadigov, and urges the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately release them from custody, to respect their right to due process and a fair trial, and to stop the judicial harassment against them.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Azerbaijan asking them to:

i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Avaz Zeynalli and Elchin Sadigov;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Avaz Zeynalli and Elchin Sadigov as well as all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the country;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Avaz Zeynalli and Elchin Sadigov, as well as against all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

Addresses:

• Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: office@pa.gov.az, office@apparat.gov.az
• Mr. Kyamran Aliev, Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: info@prosecutor.gov.az
• Mr. Jeyhun Aziz oglu Bayramov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: katiblik@mfa.gov.az
• Mr. Fikrat F. Mammadov, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: contact@justice.gov.az
• H.E. Mr. Yashar Teymur oglu Aliyev, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations in Geneva, E-mail: geneva@mission.mfa.gov.az

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Azerbaijan in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Azerbaijan.

***

Geneva-Paris, September 15, 2021

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39
• Tel FIDH: + 33 1 43 55 25 18

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