(IRFS/IFEX) - 31 October 2011 - On 28 October, "Khural" newspaper editor-in-chief Avaz Zeynalli was detained by employees of the Anti-Corruption Fight Office, and at around 10:30pm of the same evening, the Nasimi District Court sentenced him to three months of pre-trial detention. A criminal case was recently launched against Zeynalli, under Article 306.2 of the Criminal Code (contempt of court).
On 29 October, Zeynalli was transferred from the Narimanov District Police Office to the Kurdakhani Investigative Prison, his lawyer Elchin Sadigov reported to IRFS after a fifteen-minute meeting with the editor.
Sadigov explained that "Zeynalli signed an appeal against his arrest, and complaints against the search of his house, automobile, and the recording of his phone conversations. Zeynalli said that at the time of arrest he was told that 'it is the beginning of your end.'"
Sadigov also reported that Zeynalli denied the charges brought by MP Gular Ahmadova and explained the chain of events. "Gular had repeatedly called Zeynalli, who did not respond to his phone calls. Then Gular asked other persons, including editor Rauf Arifogly for help in contacting Zeynalli. After that, Zeynalli took the phone call, but there was no conversation about money," he said.
Meanwhile, on 31 October, the Editors' Union, journalists' organizations, and human rights defenders met at the IRFS Press Center to discuss Zeynalli's arrest.
During the discussion, those present made it clear they believe that Zeynalli's arrest is politically motivated. "The court proceedings regarding Zeynalli and MP Gular Ahmadova's phone conversations indicate that the journalist's arrest is politically motivated," said "Khural" employee Nuraddin Khoja.
Sadigov said that there are no grounds for sentencing the editor to pre-trial detention or for launching a criminal case. "The 19 October complaint filed by MP Gular Ahmadova with the Anti-Corruption Office was taken as a basis for the criminal charge. Ahmadova had attached a video file to the appeal, which allegedly contains her phone conversation with Zeynalli. However, an expert report says that Zeynalli's voice cannot be identified. Moreover, an illegally recorded video or audio material cannot be considered as evidence for the investigation."
According to the lawyer, the searches carried out at Zeynalli's house, car and newspaper office were all illegal. "We have filed an appeal against trumped-up charges against Avaz Zeynalli, and against the violations of police protocol," he said.
"During the search, my sick father was at home. The people who were searching the house made us leave our home. They asked me where we had hidden the gold and weapons . . . I guess they have confused journalists with those who commit 'corruption'," said Malahat Zeynalli, wife of the arrested editor-in-chief.
The 31 October discussions revealed that starting in August, Ahmadova had called various people asking them to urge Zeynalli to answer her calls. "She repeatedly called me over a period of 8 days requesting me to urge the journalist to answer her phone calls. After that he answered Ahmadova's phone call," said Rauf Arifoglu, editor-in-chief of "Yeni Musavat" newspaper.
It was also revealed that Ahmadova had twice called Khoja with the same request. "When I was with Zeynalli, Gular Ahmadova sent me an SMS requesting that the journalist answer her phone call," said Elbrus Arud, head of Qafqazinfo news agency. Director of Turan Information Agency Mehman Aliyev called upon his colleagues to pay close attention to the investigations and facts.
Editors, human rights defenders and journalistic organizations reached an agreement to work together to defend Zeynalli's rights. During the discussions, "Khural" newspaper employees were asked to make a list of all the phone calls, lawsuits, and pressures against Zeynalli, and to submit it to the Editors' Union.
The case against the newspaper's editor-in-chief is reportedly based on his non-adherence to a court decision that called for "Khural" newspaper to pay 10,000 AZN (approx. US$12,700) to Ramiz Mehdiyev and 5,000 AZN to Vugar Safarli. Mehdiyev, head of the Presidential Administration, and Safarli, chairman of State Support for the Development of Mass Media, had filed lawsuits against the editor-in-chief, accusing "Khural" of insulting their honor and dignity. The newspaper appealed for the termination of the execution of these fines due to lack of funds. The Justice Ministry claims that a criminal case was opened against the editor-in-chief because he refused to pay compensation to the two plaintiffs.
On 19 October, court executors from the Narimanov District Court examined the property of "Khural"'s editorial office, and the equipment purchased upon the 20 September switch by the paper from weekly to daily publishing was inventoried and subsequently confiscated. Only a small proportion of the confiscated equipment was actually owned by "Khural" newspaper, as the court executors' inventory included the property of the Liberal.az website, whose office is situated in the same building, in addition to computers lent to "Khural" by other organizations.
Prison managers prevent editor from attending hearing (IRFS, 1 August 2012)
Avaz Zeynalli's prison term extended (IRFS, 12 April 2012)