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Azerbaijan Pardons Blogger, Releases Journalist

Mehman Aliyev has been released from pretrial detention, while travel blogger Alexander Lapshin was pardoned.

12 September 2017

The director of the Turan News Agency, Mehman Aliyev, was released in what some see as Baku’s attempt to play “good cop” to silence international criticism, EurasiaNet.org writes. It remains unclear whether Aliyev has been placed under house arrest.

 

Aliyev was detained last month on charges of tax evasion and abuse of office, and the Turin Information Agency was forced to suspend its activities. Turin is one of the few remaining independent voices in a landscape dominated by government media, and Aliyev’s detention has been widely criticized as being politically motivated.

 

The International Partnership on Human Rights notes that allegations of tax evasion and similar charges have “previously [been] used against other critical voices” in Azerbaijan.

 

The motivations for Aliyev’s release are unclear, but Azerbaijan watchers have speculated that the regime feared the possibility of sanctions, including restrictions on officials involved with the arrest from visiting the United States, EurasiaNet.org reported.

 

Following Aliyev’s detention, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin proposed such entry restrictions, calling the detention “wrongful imprisonment,” according to Azerbaijani journalist Kadhija Ismayilova, who retweeted an amendment suggested by Durbin.

 

 

The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Desir, welcomed the release, and also expressed his hope that the Azerbaijani authorities will allow Turan “to continue to work and contribute to media pluralism in the country.”

 

“I welcome this positive step on the part of the authorities and call on them to drop all charges against Mehman Aliyev. I value the dialogue on this situation in which we have engaged with Azerbaijan as an important way to resolve media freedom issues. It should continue," Desir said.  

 

Azerbaijan has come under increased international pressure in recent months after a renewed crackdown on media and journalists, Human Rights Watch writes.

 

In related news, RFE/RL, citing APA, the state news agency, reported that 14 alleged Islamic militants had been released early after serving time for calling for the overthrow of the government and inciting hatred.

 

 

  • Travel blogger Alexander Lapshin was sentenced in July by a court in Baku to three years in prison for illegally entering Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh. Prosecutors said Lapshin engaged in “propagandizing the separatist regime” in Nagorno-Karabakh as well as entering the territory several times without Azerbaijan’s permission.
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  • “The blogger’s arrest had caused friction between Azerbaijan and his many countries of citizenship,” and is likely to have contributed to Baku’s decision to set him free, EurasiaNet writes. Lapshin holds Israeli, Russian, and Ukrainian citizenship.
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  • Mehman Aliyev has been a journalist and media freedom advocate for more than 20 years. He is also the co-founder of the Press Council, the Yeni Nesil Journalist Union, the Elmar Huseynov Foundation, and the Baku Press Club. According to Human Rights House, "he is known as a patron for the whole freedom of expression community in Azerbaijan.”
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  • Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is a regular on the “press freedom predator” list of Reporters Without Borders, which accuses him of targeting “all media, journalists and bloggers critical of the regime, and by extension, their families.”
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  • In July the government awarded free apartments to 255 journalists in what the Trade Union of Journalists head said was recognition of the problem of poor housing in a low-paid profession. Human Rights Watch called the move “no substitute… for the dire media situation” in Azerbaijan and called for an end to state antagonism. 
Compiled by Kate Syme-Lamont
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