Azerbaijan - Another journalist convicted, given eight years in prison

by Reporters Without Borders | Reporters Without Borders
Friday, 16 May 2014 10:42 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the eight-year jail sentence that the journalist and human rights activist Parviz Hashimli received from a Baku court yesterday on a trumped-up charge of organizing the sale of Iranian weapons. He was convicted of "receiving" under article 206.3.2 of the penal code and illegal sale of arms under article 228.2.1.

"After eight months of pre-trial detention, Hashimli's conviction is a yet another example of how the authorities have fabricated charges in order to silence a critic," said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

"Hashimli is the victim of arbitrary justice that denied him the right to present evidence of his innocence. We are outraged that a trial flouting every defence right could be held in Azerbaijan immediately after it assumed the rotating presidency of the Council of Europe's committee of ministers. We urge the justice system to quash this conviction on appeal and to release Hashimli without delay."

A reporter for the newspaper Bizim Yol, editor of the news website and head of the Centre for the Defence of Citizens' Civil and Political Rights, Hashimli was convicted together with another man, Tavakkul Gurbanov, who pleaded guilty to the same charge of organizing the sale of Iranian arms and who was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison.

The prosecutor requested nine-year jail terms for both defendants. After the verdict was announced, Hashimli described the trial as highly political. During the trial, he reported being under pressure to implicate leading government opponents.

Hashimli spent his first 20 days in solitary confinement following his arrest on 17 September 2013 at the national security ministry's behest. He was not allowed to contact his lawyer or his family and said he was subjected to physical and psychological torture. The court rejected his repeated requests for examination of evidence that could have proved his innocence.

Violations of human rights and freedom of information have reached alarming levels in Azerbaijan, where media pluralism is steadily disappearing. On 14 May, Azerbaijan assumed the presidency of the Council of Europe's committee of ministers. It is currently the most repressive of the 47 members of the Council of Europe, which is supposed to ensure respect for human rights in Europe.

At least 10 journalists are currently imprisoned in connection with their work in Azerbaijan. President Ilham Aliyev stops at nothing to silence all those who speak out against him.

Two French journalists – reporter Laurent Richard and cameraman Emmanuel Bach of the Premières Lignes news agency – were arrested by around 15 security agents as they were about to leave Azerbaijan from Baku airport on 14 May, two days after an official visit by French President François Hollande.

They had gone to Azerbaijan to follow the French delegation but stayed on for two more days to meet human rights activists and government opponents for the France 2 magazine programme "Cash Investigation."

The police searched their computers and hard disks and seized their notes and the memory cards on which they had recorded interviews and video of the people they had met. As the journalists refused to leave without their material, they were put on their departing flight by force.

Premières Lignes editor Benoît Bringer told Reporters Without Borders: "We knew that Azerbaijan targets local journalists but now the regime no longer hesitates to target foreign journalists who are accredited members of the French president's official delegation."

Bringer added: "We must talk about these acts of censorship. It is the only way to protect those in the country who are denouncing violations of human rights and democracy."