New York, July 10, 2018--Azerbaijani authorities should immediately release independent journalist Afgan Sadygov, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police first detained Sadygov, the founder and chief editor of now-defunct independent news website Azel, on July 6, according to his wife Sevinch Sadygova, who spoke to CPJ today. He was tried on July 7 and sentenced to 30 days in jail for an administrative offense, according to Sadygova and the journalist's lawyer. However, Sadygov's exact whereabouts are not known, Sadygova and his lawyer Javad Javadov told CPJ over the phone today.
Javadov, who told CPJ he was not present at the trial and only received access to the court documents today, said Sadygov was charged with hooliganism and disobedience to a lawful order by a police officer. According to the court ruling, the journalist should be held in the Baku detention center for administrative offenses, the lawyer said. However, Javadov and Sadygova visited the center today but were told Sadygov was not there, Javadov said.
The journalist's wife told CPJ she also went to the court where he was tried and to the Baku detention center for organized crime offenders--where the court documents say Sadygov was taken initially, Javadov said--but was told her husband was not there. She said she is concerned about her husband's well-being because the detention center for organized crime offenders--or "bandotdel"--is known for torture of its inmates, Sadygova said.
"Snatching a journalist from his mother's home, rushing him through trial without legal representation, and hiding him from family and lawyer is not only a violation of his basic rights, but puts another stain on Azerbaijan's reputation as a press offender," said CPJ's Europe and Central Asia research associate Gulnoza Said. "We call on the Azerbaijani authorities to release Afgan Sadygov immediately and stop harassing independent journalists."
According to Sadygova, the journalist was detained on July 6 while he was visiting his mother in Jalilabad. However, the court papers indicated the arrest date was July 7, according to the lawyer. "There are a lot of inaccuracies in the indictment, which we are going to challenge in the complaint I am filing as soon as I speak to my client," Javadov said.
The district court where the lawyer says the journalist was tried and the interior ministry's local department have not responded to CPJ's emailed questions about Sadygov's case.
Sadygov's arrest comes around six weeks after his May 23, 2018, release from prison. He was detained in November 2016 and sentenced to two and a half years in jail on assault charges that CPJ determined were in retaliation for his reporting for Azel on alleged corruption by local authorities.
Sadygova told CPJ that the latest arrest came after Sadygov's social media posts voicing criticism of recent events in Azerbaijan. "After his release, he resumed criticizing the authorities online. He wrote a lot on harsh conditions in prison, such as lack of food and medical care for inmates. He also posted videos about current social issues on Facebook questioning why our life is so hard," she said. Sadygov's Facebook account has been blocked since July 7, according to Sadygova. CPJ could not find the journalist's page on Facebook today.
Azerbaijani media reported that Sadygov was arrested along with 13 other people throughout the country in connection with social media posts about recent events in the country, including electricity blackouts and a July 3 assassination attempton the mayor of the city of Ganja, Elmar Veliyev. Sadygova told CPJ that her husband had condemned the assassination attempt against Veliyev, but defended the alleged assassin's right to due process.
Authorities in Azerbaijan have systematically silenced critical media through arresting and harassing journalists and blocking websites, CPJ has documented. This has left social media as one of the only platforms for independent reporting and commentary.