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TIMELINE OF GOVERNMENT PRESSURE ON MEDIA IN 2017

The Azeri Times

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On 9 January, officers from police station No 22 of the Nasimi district police department detained videoblogger Mehman Huseynov. On 10 January, he was brought before court and fined 200 manats after being found guilty of disobeying police.

He told reporters he was tortured while in custody.

M. Musayev, the chief of the Nasimi district police department, said that this statement by Huseynov libeled the police, and filed a special lawsuit. Following the lawsuit, the Surakhani district court sentenced Mehman Huseynov to two years in prison on 3 March.

Anar Hasanov, Lider TV’s Moscow correspondent, was dismissed from his job because of a question he put to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The question he asked the minister at a news conference – “if Azerbaijan launches anti-terror operations and liberates the occupied lands, what will Moscow do – will it turn a blind eye to that or will it interfere with Azerbaijan’s internal affairs” – was one of the main talking points.

February

On 7 February, blogger Mehman Galandarov was sentenced to three months of arrest. He was charged under Article 234.2 of the Criminal Code (illegal acquisition or possession, preparation, production, processing, transporting, or sending of narcotics or psychotropic substances with the purpose of selling them, or illegal sale of narcotics or psychotropic substances). The blogger rejected the charges and said he was arrested because he had participated in anti-government rallies in Baku and Tbilisi.

He died in custody later.

– Elchin Ismayilli, a journalist from Ismayilli, was arrested on 17 February 2017. He was accused of threatening officials in Ismayilli District that he would circulate defamatory information about them unless they paid him.

Ismayilli rejects the accusations. He says he had borrowed the 1,000 manats that were found on him when he was detained.

The journalist was charged under articles 182 (using threats to extort money), 308 (abuse of office) and 311 (taking a bribe) of the Criminal Code.

On 18 September, the Shaki Court for Serious Crimes sentenced him to nine years in prison. The court also banned Ismayilli from holding certain posts for a period of three years.

March

On 3 March, the military detained journalist Ilgar Valiyev while he was filming in the village of Chiragli in Agdam District. Valiyev’s defense lawyer said he was tortured when he was detained.

On 17 March, amendments were made to the law of the Azerbaijan Republic “On information, provision of information and protection of information”. The amendments allow executive bodies to shut down websites without a court ruling.

April

On 5 April, the Supreme Court reviewed a cassation complaint filed by ANS regarding the termination of the license of ANS ÇM radio station. The court rejected the appeal filed by ANS. Thus, the television channel and the radio station came back empty-handed from all agencies in Azerbaijan.

On 29 April, blogger Mehman Galandarov reportedly committed suicide in Kurdakhani remand facility.

May

Aziz Orujov, the executive director of Kanal 13 web-based TV, was detained on 2 May on charges of resisting police. He was sentenced to 30 days of administrative detention. On the day he was to be released – 1 June, the Serious Crimes Investigation Department of the Prosecutor-General’s Office launched a criminal case against him. He was charged under articles 192 (illegal entrepreneurship) and 308 (abuse of office). On the same day, the Nasimi district court sentenced him to four months of arrest.

On 12 May, the Sabail district court ruled to block access in Azerbaijan to azadliq.org, the website of Radio Liberty; azadliq.info, the website of Azadliq newspaper; the websites of Meydan TV and Turan TV and the website of “Azerbaijan Hour” television program.

On 23 May, journalist Nijat Amiraslanov, who lives in Gazakh District, was arrested for 30 days. He was punished for allegedly violating Article 535.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses.

On May 29, independent journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who lived in Tbilisi, was brought to Azerbaijan in mysterious circumstances. The journalist says he was abducted in Tbilisi, had a sack pulled over his head, tortured, and brought to Azerbaijan by force and that 10,000 euros were planted in his pocket while he was being transferred through the border.

However, Azerbaijan launched a criminal case against him under articles 315 (use of force to resist a government representative), 318.1 (illegal crossing of the border) and 206.1 (smuggling).

June

Independent journalists who were accused of collaborating with Meydan TV were interrogated at the Serious Crimes Investigation Department regarding Afghan Mukhtarli’s case.

On 14 June, journalist Fikret Faramazoglu, the director of jam.az, was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was charged under Article 182 of the Criminal Code. The journalist is accused of using threats to extort money from the owners of different restaurants and catering facilities. However, the journalist rejects the accusations and says that he was arrested for unmasking brothels that operated under the disguise of restaurants or massage parlors. He says that those places operate under the protection of officials.

July

On 22 July, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev presented apartments to more than 200 journalists.

August

On 8 August, the Tax Ministry began a mobile tax inspection of Turan News Agency. The ministry claimed that the news agency had evaded paying 60,000 manats in taxes.

On 24 August, Mehman Aliyev, the director of Turan News Agency, was detained. The next day, he was charged under articles 213.1 (tax evasion), 308.1 (abuse of office) and 192.2.2 (illegal entrepreneurship).

On 31 August, Turan News Agency announced that it stopped operating as a commercial entity.

September

On 5 September, the Bilasuvar District Court sentenced Ziya Asadli, a regional correspondent of Azadliq newspaper, to three years in prison. In May, a criminal case had been launched against him under Article 221.3 of the Criminal Code (hooliganism with the use of a weapon or an item used as a weapon).

On 29 September, Khadija Ismayil, an investigative journalist who works for Radio Liberty, received the Allard Prize established by the School of Law of Canada’s University of British Columbia.

ATV, which is known as an Azerbaijani entertainment channel, changed hands in September. The director of the channel, Vugar Garadagli, and his team were dismissed, while Azer Khalilov, the director of CBC channel, which is owned by SOCAR, was put in his place. His brother Vugar Khalilov was appointed to CBC.

October

On 2 October, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) released a statement that said that it had started looking into a complaint filed by nine journalists and six lawyers and social and political activists who had been banned from traveling outside the country.

– On 14 October, journalist Fikret Huseynli, a Dutch citizen of Azerbaijani origin, was detained in Kiev’s Boryspil airport on his way from Ukraine to Dusseldorf, Germany.

Huseynli was detained on the basis of an Interpol alert request by Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was said to have charged him under Article 318 (illegal crossing of the state border of the Azerbaijan Republic) and 178 (hooliganism) of the Criminal Code.

On 17 October, the Boryspil city court in Ukraine sentenced Fikret Huseynli to 18 days of arrest. On 27 October, the Lukyanovsky district court in Kiev released Fikret Huseynli. Fikret Huseynli had lately been collaborating with Turan TV, a satellite television channel broadcast from Europe.

On 26 October, the Pavel Sheremet Journalism Award 2017, which was awarded to jailed journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, was given to his wife, Leyla Mustafayeva.

November

On 7 November, the Azerbaijani government lost a lawsuit against two French journalists. A French court rejected Baku’s lawsuit against the journalists who had called the Azerbaijani government a “dictatorship”. The Azerbaijani government had filed the libel lawsuit against two television workers – Elise Lucet and Laurent Richard. It demanded 1 euro in symbolic damages.

On 8 November, Kapital Bank blocked investigative journalist Khadija Ismayil’s bank account on orders from the Tax Ministry.

The journalist filed a complaint with the Baku Administrative Economic Court No 1. However, the court rejected her suit. The journalist appealed that decision as well. The appeal was rejected as well.

On 16 November, the Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Award was awarded to investigative journalist Khadija Ismayil in London. Because the journalist was not allowed to travel outside her country, she joined the awards ceremony via Skype.

The journalist was awarded the award for her corruption investigations.

On 16 November, parliamentarian Agil Abbas suggested at a meeting of the National Assembly that people working for foreign media should be declared “spies”. His idea became a talking point.

December

On 15 December, the Court for Serious Crimes sentenced Aziz Orujov, the executive director of Kanal 13 web-based TV, to six years in prison.

On 18 December, access to the website of Kanal 13 web-based TV – kanal13.tv – was blocked.
According to a report released by Reporters Without Borders on 26 April, Azerbaijan ranks 162nd among 180 countries in terms of freedom of the press. The country was 163rd last year.

An annual report released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on 12 December says that 262 journalists were jailed around the world because of their work. Last year’s record was 259.

Azerbaijan is one of the countries with the largest number of jailed journalists. The CPJ said that 10 journalists were currently in jail in this country. In addition, more than 10 journalists have been banned from traveling outside the country.

However, government officials stress that no journalist in this country is punished because of their professional work.

A draft law “On the Armed Forces of the Azerbaijan Republic” was adopted on 15 December. The law sets restrictions regarding information that journalists can report about the army. Journalists can only report official statements and information provided by press organs.

On 19 December, police detained Avaz Zeynalli, the editor-in-chief of Xural newspaper. His wife said the reason for his detention was that he had filmed the Binagadi road being closed. On 20 December, the Binagadi district court ordered him to pay a fine to the tune of 200 manats and released him.

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Corruption

UK aims at shady Azerbaijani money – but is it missing the target?

The Azeri Times

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Some have expressed concern that the UK’s first use of the “unexplained wealth order” targeted someone already out of favor with the Azerbaijani government.

The announcement that the wife of an Azerbaijani banker is the first target of British efforts to crack down on foreigners’ illicit wealth was welcomed by good government advocates, but raised concerns that London may only be aiming at figures who are out of favor with their home governments.

On October 10, British media reported that the target of Britain’s first “unexplained wealth order” is Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of Jahangir Hajiyev, the former head of the International Bank of Azerbaijan. The order is a recently introduced instrument allowing British law enforcement officers to demand explanations when a person’s wealth does not correspond to their declared income. It is aimed at cracking down on the vast amounts of ill-gotten wealth – much of it from the former Soviet Union – parked in London.

There is no shortage of dodgy Azerbaijani money in the UK. The investigation into the “Azerbaijani Laundromat,” for example, found that shell companies based in the UK played a key role in the Azerbaijani political elites’ money-laundering and influence-buying operations.

The Hajiyevs, meanwhile, had already been cast out of the Baku political elite: In 2015, Hajiyev was sentenced by an Azerbaijani court to 15 years in prison for misuse of funds.

The government-friendly Azerbaijani press – not typically a fan of stories about Azerbaijanis falling afoul of investigators in the West – widely reported the news about Hajiyeva. “All of England is talking about Zamira Hajiyeva,” crowed a headline on Haqqin.az, a news site connected to Azerbaijan’s security forces.

Two days before the news broke in the UK, in fact, Haqqin had already reported that Hajiyeva was the target of the order. The story cited the Telegram channel Banksta – a Russian-language channel covering banking affairs – but a sister website of Haqqin, Azeri Daily, had named Hajiyev as early as July.

That Hajiyeva was targeted, out of the many potential subjects of the order, raised some consternation among observers.

“There is an interesting issue with the case of Zamira Hajiyeva,” tweeted Anar Mammadli, an Azerbaijani human rights activist. “After all, she and her husband, Jahangir Hajiyev, are not the first Azerbaijani civil servants to buy property in London. Will the other official-families’ ‘contributions’ to the British economy be investigated? After all, they are not alone!”

“What a can of worms,” tweeted John Heathershaw, a professor at the University of Exeter who studies post-Soviet financial ties with the West. “Many thousands more potential cases. Or are we just going to look at those who have fallen out of favour with their home governments?”
“What a can of worms,” tweeted John Heathershaw, a professor at the University of Exeter who studies post-Soviet financial ties with the West. “Many thousands more potential cases. Or are we just going to look at those who have fallen out of favour with their home governments?”

“Hajiyev and his wife have already fallen foul of the system in Azerbaijan. I don’t imagine the Azerbaijani regime will be overly concerned to see this investigation. Who knows, maybe they even had a hand in triggering the investigation,” tweeted analyst Alex Nice.

“My take on the UWO is that it looks like a missed chance to send a big message,” tweeted Oliver Bullough, a journalist who has extensively covered post-Soviet wealth in the UK. “Jahangir Hajiyev had already been jailed in Azerbaijan so why not use the standard asset recovery route, as with Gulnara Karimova? UWOs are supposed to be for assets that can’t be seized otherwise.”

Nevertheless, the move was welcomed by good government advocates. “UWOs should now be used more widely to pursue more of the £4.4 billion worth of suspicious wealth we have identified across the UK,” Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, told the BBC.

And some in the region wondered if their oligarchs would be next. “It seems that investigators from the National Crime Agency started from the letter ‘A,’” joked Uzbekistani writer Hamid Ismailov on twitter. “Uzbek ‘nouveau riches’ might think that they are last in the running order:) in between Uganda and Zambia.”

Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.

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Politics

Political émigré who returned home to visit critically ill father arrested on fraudulent drug-related charges

The Azeri Times

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Azad Hasanov, Musavat party member and political exile living in Lithuania, has been arrested during a short return to his home country and charged with drug trafficking.

According to his lawyer, Osman Kazimov, the Khatai District Court sentenced him to four months in detention on drug-related charges. Under Article 234.4.3 (illegal manufacturing, purchase, storage, transportation, transfer or selling of sale of drugs), Hasanov faces between five and twelve years in prison.

On 11 October, Musavat deputy chairman Sakhavat Soltanli reported that Hasanov had disappeared and was likely arrested. He has been a member of the Surakhany Musavat branch since 2003 and had relocated to Lithuania in 2014, where he was granted political asylum.

He returned to Baku on 10 October, upon learning that his seriously ill father was about to die.

According to his spouse, Tarana Hasanova, he did not have any problems flying into Baku airport: “His father has been seriously ill and is about to die. He arrived on 10 October during the night. He did not have any problems crossing the border and stayed with his father until noon. He later went to the Mosque to pray. That’s where people in civilian clothes stopped him and forced him into a car. When his brother tried to help him, they pushed him aside and told him they are from the police.”

Hasanov’s fate recalls the case of lawyer Emin Aslan who was forced into a car by people in civilian clothes a few days after returning from his studies in the US. He later was found to be held at the Office for Combating Organized Crime, and spent 30 days in detention for failing to obey a police officer’s orders.

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Society

European film festival in Baku: a Dutch cat, a Hungarian horse and a ‘faceless’ French artist

The Azeri Times

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The 9th European Film Festival has officially begun in Baku.

The event is organised by the European Union in Azerbaijan and will end on 21 October, until which time the public is invited to view 19 European films free of charge.

Here are some of the films we recommend:

The documentary film Wild Amsterdam, accompanied by director Mark Verkerk and producer Ignas van Schaick, will be screened at the festival. The film centres around the animals of Amsterdam, but not in a way you might expect: the story is told from the perspective of a cat, who shows us how squirrels, pigeons and waterfowl live in Amsterdam’s canals and parks.

The directors say that the consultation with ecologists and other specialists took half a year by itself. The film is a viewing wonder, dynamic and modern. For example, one scene depicts the retrieval of bicycles from the bottom of the canal with the help of special machinery. The scene looks as if it has been cut right out of a thriller because of how it traumatises the crabs living on the bottom.

The film Kincsem – Bet on Revenge is from Hungary, and also concerns the fate of an animal – a racehorse who belongs to a broke aristocrat forced to earn money through racing. However, the film is not about horseracing, but rather about competition between members of high-class society in the Austrian Empire. The film’s action revolves around the young aristocrat who becomes involved in a dispute with an Austrian officer, whose daughter later falls for the main character.

Barbara, a film by Christian Petzold, is a drama shot in 2012 which takes viewers back to 1980 when Germany was still divided by the Berlin Wall. The main heroine of the film lives in the German Democratic Republic and dreams of leaving. Forced to work in the country and under constant surveillance, she methodically prepares her plan to escape. At first it seems everything will work out and that nobody can prevent her from leaving, including the all-powerful Stasi. However, an inconvenient and unexpected attachment to one of her colleagues jeopardises her escape.

Latvian film Dream Team 1935 by Aigars Grauba was also shot in 2012 and also offers an excursion into the past – to the pre-war period of 1935 when the first European Basketball Championship took place in Geneva. Participation in the championship was a great chance for national teams to go down in sports history. The Latvian team seizes the opportunity, though young trainer Baumanis soon comes to understand that it is far more important to overcome oneself than one’s enemy…

Halima’s Path is the work of Croatian director Arsen Anton Ostoyich, and is dedicated to one of the bloodiest wars of the second half of the 20th century – the war in former Yugoslavia. The action takes place in the post-war years in Bosnia. A woman by the name of Halima who lost her husband and son (though not biological) dreams of finding their remains in order to give them a proper burial. She is only able to do this with the help of DNA analysis. While she is able to find her husband’s remains, she finds it difficult to do so in the case of her son. Halima must then go through some hardship to find the biological mother of her son in order to find him.

The French film See You Up There is also devoted to war and its consequences. This time, the action takes place during World War I. The story begins in the final days of the war, when two young soldiers – an artist from a wealthy family, Edouard, and a former bank employee, Albert – are forced to go to their certain deaths on the orders of a malicious captain. Edouard, whose face has been disfigured, saves Albert, which firmly binds the two friends together: now Edouard is an ‘invisible’ artist, and Albert his impresario.

In addition to film screenings, the festival includes workshops and discussions with European directors.

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