Center for National and International Studies
“By arresting Zeynalli and Sadigov, the regime aims to silence online tv channels and activist YouTubers.”
(Lack of) Human Rights and Liberties
Lawyer Elchin Sadigov and head of “Khural TV” Internet television, journalist Avaz Zeynalli, were arrested on the charges of bribery. However, while the investigation of the criminal case against them was carried out in the Investigation Department of the General Prosecutor’s Office, they were detained at the detention center of the State Security Service (SSS). The judge of Binagadi District Court, Farid Amiraliyev, made a decision at four in the morning sentencing both Zeynalli and Sadigov with four months of preliminary detention. It is unknown why the decision was made by the SSS instead of the district court. Moreover, the prosecutor’s office referred to the information spread on social networks without providing evidence of the alleged bribery. Journalist Zeynalli and lawyer Sadigov both were charged under Article 311.3.3 of the Criminal Code (taking a large amount of bribes). Zeynalli pleaded not guilty, saying that the accusation was trumped up. According to the Azerbaijani criminal code, a person found guilty under this article shall be punished by imprisonment for a period of 8 to 12 years.
Chairperson of APFP Ali Karimli condemned the arrest and called the government to immediately release them. Karimli wrote: “The fact that the decision to arrest the well-known lawyer Elchin Sadigov and the well-known journalist Avaz Zeynalli was issued at four o’clock in the morning and the fact that the judge’s “deliberation” lasted for just five hours proves that this arrest is politically motivated. If they would indeed aim to fight against corruption and bribery, many offices would have been left empty. The alleged “fight against bribery” is nonsense. The law enforcement agency fighting bribery should have started with investigating the “Azerbaijan Laundromat.” In this case alone, 3.9 billion dollars was stolen from the country and transferred to offshore accounts. International investigative journalists have revealed thousands of evidence. The London properties are also a matter for the real prosecutors to investigate.”
Former political prisoner and lawyer Anar Mammadli said that by arresting Sadigov, the regime aims to neutralize political prisoners and activists. Mammadli wrote: “For a long time, they have been trying to remove Elchin Bey from the office. Complaints were repeatedly made to the Bar Association in order to cancel his license as a lawyer. They want to prevent Sadigov from protecting political prisoners. Political prisoners Samir Nura Ashurov, Rashad Ramazanov, Ziya Ibrahimli, Anar Aliyev are now left defenseless.”
Activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev said that journalist Zeynalli was arrested due to the sensitive materials he obtained that could easily be used against high-ranking officials. Hajiyev wrote: “What is actually happening is the next step in a process that has been going on for many years. Political parties, human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and activists used to be repressed, and now they have started to arrest them. The detention of journalist Avaz Zeynalli by the Prosecutor General’s Office and the search at lawyer Elchin Sadigov‘s office are due to the fact that Rasim Mammadov, who is currently imprisoned in the State Security Service’s detention center, said in court that he possesses certain documents that he would be sharing with Zeynalli. And Avaz Zeynalli also said that he had some documents, and he would reveal them in time.”
Economist Zohrab Ismayil called the charges again Zeynalli and Sadigov baseless and added that in any bribe case, all parties should be investigated. Ismayil wrote: “If both Avaz Zeynalli and Elchin Sadigov are arrested for taking bribes, then those who offered the bribe in the first place should be charged as well. According to the legislation of Azerbaijan, in the case of bribery, both parties are held responsible. Therefore, in this case, the “complaining” family member of Rasim Mammadov should also be investigated. Even if he “cooperates” with the investigation, the current legislation does not absolve him of responsibility.”
Commenting on the arrest of Sadigov, director of Baku Research Institute Altay Goyushov said that the West should closely follow the case and put pressure on the Aliyev regime if it is serious about democratic values. Goyushov wrote: If the West, instead of clearly taking a serious attitude to the issue, will play the process like in the case of the Khashoggi then Malikmommed (Aliyev) will be encouraged. Azerbaijan will be on its way to become Turkmenistan. Therefore, I demand that the US and Europe to impose sanctions on Aliyev’s government due to the arrest of Elchin Sadigov. Otherwise, my final conclusion will be that the West’s talk about democracy and human rights is worthless and is just a tool used in geopolitical war. There is no difference between Aliyev and Lukashenko on the issue of democracy, and their differences are only in geopolitical issues. Malikmommed also understands that the process can go in this direction and that he is taking risks. That’s why he ordered the arrest at night. In short, now the West is being tested. Let’s see what happens.”
Member of REAL Party Natig Jafarli also condemned the decision of the court, saying that both Sadigov and Zeynalli should be immediately released, and the investigation should be continued without them being arrested. “The arrest is political, most likely an illegal step taken to prevent the release of information in possession of the lawyer Sadigov”, added Jafarli.
Activist and journalist Mehman Huseynov condemned the arrests saying that the General Prosecutor’s Office should investigate the corruption scandals that were revealed by the investigative journalists. Huseynov wrote: “How can it be possible that the lawyer Elchin Sadigov, who stands by every citizen whose rights have been violated, and the journalist Avaz Zeynalli, who voices the problems of every citizen, are arrested without committing any crime, but the biggest criminals who destroyed the country’s wealth and stole millions from the people go unpunished? If the General Prosecutor’s Office has the skills and courage, they should investigate the real criminals and punish them.”
Chairperson of NCDF Jamil Hasanli said that the arrest of Sadigov is political and was ordered by the president himself. Hasanli wrote: “The search at his office and home is unacceptable according to the current legislation, and it is illegal to interfere with professional activity of the lawyers. Under the pretext of investigating a possibility that would become clear in four days, Elchin Bey will be detained for four months. The issue is political, and it is an order from above. In a country where corruption has become a state policy, they arrested the head of the Archive in Jalilabad district for bribery and searched the office and home of Elchin Sadigov, who used to work for most of his clients for free. If people can be arrested because of an article, what about the arrests for Azerbaijani Laundromat, Panama Papers, Pandora Papers, and luxurious London properties? After all, the press has extensively written many articles about those corruption cases.”
Lawyer Arastun Orujlu argued that the arrest of Sadigov and Zeynalli is connected to the investigation of the notorious Tartar torture case. Orujlu wrote: “There should be no doubt that the state in Azerbaijan is in the hands of the criminal groups who had committed the Tartar massacre. When Ilham Aslanoglu and Abid Gafarov were arrested, there could be doubts about this, but the arrest of Avaz Zeynalli is clear proof. The Prosecutor’s Office, which was one of the organizers of the Tartar massacre five years ago, kept silent about it for four years, conducted a false investigation with no results for nine months, and in just two days arrested the head of the channel that actively covered the crime. Moreover, one of the lawyers involved in the defense of the victims of the Tartar massacre is Elchin Sadigov, who was also arrested together with Zeynalli.”
Exiled journalist Afgan Mukhtarli said that by arresting Zeynalli, the regime aims to silence online tv channels and activist YouTubers. Mukhtarli wrote: “Their target is internet televisions. Avaz Zeynali won’t be the last journalist to be detained. They will soon consider the other online channels as well. They will try to buy them out and will persecute those who don’t cooperate with them. They have already started to target the journalists who are abroad. They have sent their “brokers” to Europe, and one of them was in Prague recently.”
The trial of Asgar Aghazade, accused of raping teenager Sanay Yaghmur, has been postponed again. The judge gave the lawyer of the accused two weeks to review the case. Activists are worried that the court will renew the investigation process. Writer Zumrüd Yagmur, Sanay Yagmur‘s mother, appealed to the public for support. The next trial is expected to be held on September 21.
September 13, 2022