The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemned a two-year prison sentence given to Azerbaijani photojournalist and blogger Mehman Huseynov, who was convicted of libel for having claimed he was mistreated while in police custody earlier this year.
The claim arose after Huseynov was arrested on Jan. 9 for allegedly “disobeying” police. Huseynov, who was convicted and fined 200 AZN (approximately €100), and released the following day, said that police officers had abducted and beaten him.
His lawyer, Elcin Sadiqov, argued that today’s verdict and sentence were politically motivated. Both Huseynov and the attorney said that they were not given time to mount a proper defence, having been given only 30 minutes warning ahead of the trial.
Huseynov is the chairman of the non-profit Institute for Reporter’s Freedom and Safety (IRFS). He was elected to the post in November, succeeding his brother, Emin Huseynov, who fled into exile.
IRFS has faced significant pressure in Azerbaijan. In 2015, its then-head, Rasim Aliyev, died from injuries suffered in a beating he sustained after commenting on social media that a local footballer was “ill bred”. Several people, including the footballer and members of his family, were convicted for their roles in the incident, but IRFS has argued that the killing was related to Aliyev’s reporting.
IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis denounced today’s sentence.
“It’s bad enough that authorities in Azerbaijan are willing to use the threat of criminal prosecution and imprisonment to chill free expression, but this case sends a disturbing message that allegations of misconduct by officials will be met by severe repercussions,” he said. “That cannot help but serve to make journalists and others think twice about efforts to uphold governmental accountability, a necessary pillar without which democracy cannot exist.”
Huseynov’s sentence came one day after journalists and others in Azerbaijan marked the 12-year anniversary of the murder of independent journalist Elmar Huseynov (no relation to Mehman Huseynov).
An independent journalist and editor for Monitor Magazine, Elmar Huseynov was renowned for his criticism of current Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Aliyev’s father and predecessor, Heydar. Huseynov was frequently targeted by threats and harassment, and in 1998 was convicted of insulting the nation, which led to Monitor’s closure.
In 2005, two men entered his home and shot him eight times. Azerbaijani authorities implicated Georgian nationals in the case, but no one has been brought to justice.