The IPI global network demands the immediate release from custody of Ulvi Hasanli, the director of Abzas Media, an independent news outlet in Azerbaijan. On Monday, searches were carried out at the Baku office of Abzas media, soon after Hasanli was detained. According to the media outlet, Hasanli has already been beaten while under police custody.
According to colleagues of the detained journalist quoted by Turan, another independent Azerbaijani media, Hasanli is believed to have been detained at Baku airport just as he was about to fly out of Azerbaijan. Abzas Media’s editor-in-chief, Sevinc Vaqifqizi, reported that Hasanli was not able to board his flight, and that he had not been in contact with his colleagues since.
Hasanli’s detention was later confirmed by his lawyer, according to Caucasian Knot, a regional independent news outlet. Following Hasanli’s detention, authorities conducted a search at the Baku office of Abzas Media, preventing journalists from accessing their newsroom.
In a statement released by Abzas Media and shared with IPI, journalists at the outlet alleged that Hasanli had already faced mistreatment while under police custody: “[he has] been observed with a red scar under his eye,” the outlet wrote. “According to [Hasanli], he [has] been punched in the eye during the arrest; and at Baku City General Police Department, he faced inhumane treatment and torture, experiencing punches and kicks.”
Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Interior, which controls the police forces responsible for Hasanli’s arrest and for the searches at Abzas Media, declined requests to comment on the events, Caucasian Knot reported.
“IPI calls on Azerbaijan to immediately free Ulvi Hasanli and provide a transparent and public account of the reasons behind his arrest, as well as for the search conducted at the office of Abzas Media,” IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We are deeply concerned by the reports of physical mistreatment of Hasanli in custody. If these reports are confirmed, those responsible must be held accountable.”
In its statement, Abzas Media also reported that according to Hasanli, the questions investigators asked him were related to the outlet’s investigations into corruption, indicating a clear political motive behind the arrest and search: “As Abzas Media, we hold President Ilham Aliyev accountable for this unjust detention. (…) We believe that [Ulvi Hasanli’s] arrest is a response to these corruption investigations,” the outlet said.
Earlier this year, Hasanli was briefly detained while reporting on a flash mob protest organized by pro-democracy activists at an Independence Day reception at the U.S. embassy in Baku. The activists later explained that their protest aimed to draw attention to human rights abuses in Azerbaijan, especially a recent police crackdown on protests against the construction of a reservoir in the village of Soyudlu.
Media workers in Azerbaijan operate in a particularly hostile environment, with crackdowns on independent newsrooms taking place on a regular basis. In March, a collective of journalists denounced a new media law which greatly limits the possibilities for independent outlets to register their activities.