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Blogger arrested in Azerbaijan, held incommunicado for two days

(IRFS/IFEX) - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) is deeply troubled by the 29 September 2012 arrest of Zaur Gurbanli, an Azerbaijani activist with the NIDA youth movement, and calls for his immediate release.

The Azerbaijani government must end its campaign against those who exercise their right to free expression.

IRFS believes one of the main reasons for Gurbanli's arrest is his blog posts criticising government corruption and nepotism. The fact that Gurbanli's laptop and NIDA materials, including a promotional flyer with the "I would go in 2013. . . if you join the NIDA" slogan, were seized during his arrest suggests that he has been targeted for his political activity.

IRFS is also concerned over an Interior Ministry statement regarding Gurbanli's arrest, which claims he is under investigation for alleged illegal drug-related activities and that "illegal documents and objects" were found in his office. The Interior Ministry report says that on 29 September Gurbanli was sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention by the Absheron Regional Court. Gurbanli was initially held incommunicado until 1 October, when his lawyer was granted access to him. Gurbanli's lawyer ascertained that the blogger had been handed 15 days in prison based on an administrative charge of "resisting arrest".

IRFS believes Gurbanli is being targeted for his criticism of the government and for the peaceful expression of his opinions. As regard's the case, the organisation makes note of the fact that drug-related charges are commonly used by the Azerbaijani authorities to arrest political activists and journalists, that it took two days before the law enforcement agencies informed Gurbanli's relatives and the public about his arrest, and that, despite being placed under administrative detention, the blogger is being held in the custody of the Interior Ministry's Organized Crime Unit. There have previously been reports of the use of torture against individuals while in the custody of the Organized Crime Unit.

IRFS condemns the government's targeted campaign to silence critics and its crackdown on blogs and other social media, which are viewed as potential platforms for dissent. IRFS notes that another youth activist, multi-media journalist Mehman Huseynov, 23, is currently being tried on bogus hooliganism charges brought in retaliation for his online activity. IRFS calls on the government to drop the charges against Gurbanli and Huseynov, and all those who exercise their right to free expression, which is a universal right that applies to all forms of media, both online or offline.

In other news, on 30 August Gundam Khabar newspaper correspondent Ilham Suleymanov, was given a six-month conditional prison sentence by the Saatli Regional Court. The journalist reported this news to IRFS on 24 September. The Saatli Regional Court has refused to give Suleymanov a copy of the ruling.

Suleymanov was arrested after writing a number of articles critical of Saatli Regional Executive Chief Sirageddin Jabbarov. According to an Interior Ministry report, however, he was arrested for alleged "hooliganism" based on an accusation of having assaulted Saatli resident Ehtiram Mammadov on 11 June. Mammadov reportedly filed a complaint with the police, resulting in the initiation on 13 June of a criminal case against Suleymanov on hooliganism charges.


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