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EXILED JOURNALISTS’ LIVES IN DANGER?

The Azeri Times

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Ganimat Zahid, Emin Milli, Habib Muntezir

On 16 November, independent journalist Ganimat Zahid published details of a plan to “neutralize” the founders of Meydan TV, as well as Zahid himself. Zahid alleges that, according to his sources, the Azerbaijani government plans to carry out an operation against the three “inconvenient emigres” with the help of international criminal groups.

In an article at Azadliq.info, emigre journalist and former political prisoner Ganimat Zahid revealed details of an apparent murder plot against three emigre Azerbaijani journalists, including himself. Zahid says that he first received word of the threat in May or June from an unnamed source, and since then the journalist has learned more of the details, most recently on 15 November.

“The essence of the matter is that the government of Azerbaijan believes it has successfully completed preparations and is close to carrying out the operation,” wrote the emigre journalist, who has resided in France since 2011. “According to the details I was given, an Azerbaijani criminal boss has agreed to take measures against three ‘inconvenient emigres’ living in Europe. This actually confirms and adds to the information I have been receiving since June. The criminal boss, whom I don’t want to name (but I would point out that the names are known to us), has agreed to carry out an operation to neutralize the leading figures at Meydan TV, Emin Milli and Habib Muntezir, who live in Germany, and myself in France.”

The operation, allegedly instigated by the Azerbaijani government, will utilize, according to Zahid, Turkish and Russian criminal networks which stretch into Western Europe. “I stress again that this information is quite definite and was received from serious sources,” he added.

The article ends with an appeal to Zahid’s fellow journalists to seek protection: “Finally I warn my colleagues Emin Milli and Habib Muntezir: you must inform your local law enforcement agencies about this planned operation. Regardless of who carries it out, the government of Azerbaijan is behind this planned act of terror.”

Milli and Muntezir say that a separate source within the Azerbaijani government has confirmed Zahid’s allegations. They say they will inform the appropriate law enforcement agencies.

This isn’t the first time Meydan TV’s founders have received death threats. In 2015, Emin Milli announced that he received threats to his life from within the Azerbaijani government related to his criticism. When the EU Parliament confronted President Ilham Aliyev with the allegation in a 2015 resolution, the president denied the incident.

“There are several issues here which are based, whether intentionally or by mistake, on incorrect information,” President Aliyev said. “One of them is related to the fact that journalists and civil society representatives are subjected to constant threats and harassment. Of these, the director of Meydan TV, Emin Milli, received death threats. This is a mistake and a lie. He was never threatened with death. I do not know why this is written here. Perhaps this is a part of another anti-Azerbaijan campaign.”

In February of this year, Milli announced in the EU Parliament that he had received another death threat. “According to our information,” Milli said, “Azerbaijan’s intelligence services sent a group of athletes to Germany to attack me personally. One of the sources is the person who told us a few years ago that the diplomat and spy Tural Gurbanov had been sent to Germany to kill Habib Muntezir. Last time that plan resulted in the death of [Gurbanov].”

Habib Muntezir says his life has been threatened several times. In 2013, he received information that the diplomat Tural Gurbanov was actually an Azerbaijani intelligence agent who had been sent to Germany to arrange Muntezir’s murder. Shortly after Milli published the allegations on Facebook, Gurbanov was found dead in the Maldives under suspicious circumstances.

Emin Milli is a former political prisoner, who served 17 months in prison for his criticism of the Azerbaijani government. Habib Muntezir has been a well-known political activist and blogger since 2005. In 2013, the two activists created Meydan TV, an independent Azerbaijani media outlet based in Berlin. Since its inception, Meydan TV has faced constant pressure from the state and an ongoing criminal investigation for refusing to censor critical views of the government.

Ganimat Zahid is a journalist and former political prisoner who served two and a half years in prison on trumped up charges of hooliganism. A resident of France since 2011, Zahid is the editor-in-chief of the independent Azadliq newspaper as well as the founder of Turan TV.

Both azadliq.info and meydan.tv are blocked within Azerbaijan.

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Opposition

EUROPEAN COURT AWARDS DAMAGES TO NIDA MEMBERS

The Azeri Times

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The European Court of Human Rights has awarded damages to four political activists in their case against Azerbaijan.

On 7 June, the court awarded Rashad Hasanov, Zaur Gurbanli, Uzeyir Mammadli, and Rashadat Akhundov 20,000 EUR each in non-pecuniary damages and a total of 11,000 EUR in legal costs. Azerbaijan is required to make the payments within three months.

The four activists are board members of the civic movement NIDA, and they were arrested as the group was engaged in organizing protests against non-combat military deaths in the Azerbaijani armed forces. In May 2014, they were convicted on charges of preparation for a crime, mass disorder, and acquisition or storage of explosive substances.

Sentenced to between seven and eight years, all four of the applicants were eventually released early. Gurbanli and Mammadli were pardoned in December of that year, while Hasanov and Akhundov were pardoned in March 2016.

The European Court found that authorities had provided no evidence of the alleged crimes and in public statements had implied a connection between NIDA’s activism and illegal activities.

“The totality of the above-mentioned facts and circumstances, taken together with the most recent reports and opinions made by various international human rights instances about the crackdown on civil society activists, including the applicants, indicates that the actual purpose of the impugned measures was to silence and punish the applicants for their active social and political engagement and their activities in NIDA,” the court’s decision reads.

Ilkin Rustamzadeh, another NIDA member convicted at the same trial in 2014, remains in prison.

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