The IPI global network today strongly condemns the raid on the independent TV channel Toplum TV and the imprisonment of its journalists. We call on authorities in Azerbaijan for their immediate release.  

On March 6, police raided the office of Toplum TV, a major independent internet TV channel, detaining up to 18 of its staff including journalists, as well as several employees of the NGO Institute for Democratic Initiatives (IDI), which shares its office with Toplum TV. The apartments of three journalists and IDI employees were searched by police on the same day. Simultaneously, Toplum TV’s YouTube and Instagram channels were hacked and all content was erased.

On March 8, Alasgar Mammadli, the co-founder of Toplum TV, was detained near a clinic in Baku where he had gone for a medical examination.

A court in Baku later placed Mammadli, as well as Toplum TV journalist Mushvig Jabbar, in pre-trial detention for a period of four months. Two other Toplum TV journalists, Farid Ismailov and Elmir Abbasov, were released “under police supervision,” JAM News reported.

All those initially detained were accused of “smuggling foreign currency”, a charge similar to the one formulated against journalists from Abzas Media, who were detained in a wide campaign of repression of Azerbaijani journalists and activists in the past months. Mammadli rejected the charges, saying that the foreign currency allegedly found in the Toplum and IDI offices had been planted.

On March 14, police interrogated Toplum TV’s editor-in-chief, Khadija Ismayilova at the Baku city police department. Ismayilova accused the authorities of wanting to  “fully liquidate independent media [in Azerbaijan] and to leave no platform for critical opinions.” She added that the arrests are unfounded and that none of the Toplum TV journalists has been involved in illegal activities. 

“Raiding media and arresting journalists demonstrate the regime’s intolerance for independent journalism,” said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen. “We call on the authorities to immediately release all journalists still detained and to end this campaign of intimidation against the country’s independent media. We are also concerned by the apparent hacking and ensuing removal of content from accounts used by Toplum TV for its broadcasting.”

The arrests at Toplum TV are the latest event in an ongoing crackdown on free press and activists in Azerbaijan. Pressure on independent journalists has mounted since a campaign of politically motivated arrests was launched in November last year with the arrest of more than a dozen journalists from major independent outlets, including Abzas Media and Kanal-13. In November, IPI sent a letter to the Prosecutor-General of Azerbaijan, as well as the Chief of Baku City Main Police Department, urging the authorities to release the media workers.