New Wave of Arrests Targets Journalists and Activists in Azerbaijan

    At least six journalists were detained on March 6 in Baku after authorities searched the office of an online news platform, Toplum TV, as part of a major crackdown on independent media in Azerbaijan in recent months.

    Nine other staff members were questioned and released. The office was sealed off by police.

    All six journalists are facing bogus smuggling charges. One of the six detained, Farid Ismayilov, who has a health condition, was forced to sign a document under duress during questioning, according to his lawyer, Zibeyde Sadighova. Police also conducted a search at Ismayilov’s home and claim to have found €3,100 in cash. The search was conducted in the absence of Ismayilov’s lawyer.  

    The editor-in-chief of Toplum TV, Khadija Ismayilova, said in statement she was unaware of the reasons for the search operation. She said: “I only know one thing, that Toplum TV has done nothing against the law, or what would be a cause for a criminal investigation. And [the] sole aim [of the charges] is to silence whatever remains of independent media voicing critical opinions.”

    Following the raids, Toplum TV’s YouTube and Instagram accounts were hacked and all their content deleted. The platform’s YouTube channel had 3,500 videos.

    Separately, Akif Gurbanov, chairman of the Institute for Democratic Initiatives, an independent, not-for-profit nongovernmental organization, was detained on March 6 as an alleged suspect on smuggling charges.

    The police searched Gurbanov’s home and the office of III Republic, a political initiative he recently formed. Following the search, police claimed to have found €30,000 at III Republic’s office, an allegation Gurbanov and other members of the initiative deny.

    Police also detained two other members of the board of directors of III Republic, Ruslan Izzatli and Araz Aliyev. They were later released. Both Izzatli and Aliyev said they were subject to force when they refused to provide access codes to their devices during questioning.

    In November, a similar wave of detentions took place targeting another independent media outlet, Abzas Media. The platform’s director, Uvli Hasanli, the editor-in-chief Sevinc Vagifgizi, and four of its journalists remain in detention. They are all facing spurious smuggling charges. Since then, more journalists and political activists have been rounded up and sentenced on bogus smuggling, forgery, and fraud charges. 

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