Center for National and International Studies



“In our investigations, we reported on officials’ involvement in smuggling. Now, being accused of smuggling ourselves is simply retaliatory…”

(Lack of) Human Rights and Freedoms

The appeal regarding the pre-trial detention ruling concerning Alasgar Mammadli, the founder of “Toplum TV,” has been reviewed. In the session held at the Baku Court of Appeal, the defense team sought to annul the decision regarding the accused media expert due to his health condition. However, the court did not grant the request, and thus, the initial court’s decision stands upheld.

Niyamaddin Ahmadov, who worked as a bodyguard for Ali Karimli, the chairperson of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (APFP), has been confined to a punishment cell due to the discovery of “anti-government writings” allegedly found on him. Karimli shared this information on social media. Ahmadov had been arrested four years ago on charges that the Party alleges to be politically motivated and unfounded.

Journalist Teymur Kerimov is now facing further allegations. This update comes from the journalist’s legal representative, Nemet Karimli. According to Karimli, an additional charge has been added to the existing one: “Initially, Teymur Kerimov was charged under Article 182.2.4 of the Criminal Code (demanding money or property by threats with the purpose of obtaining a large amount of property). Currently, he faces an additional charge under Article 182.2.1 (committed by a group of persons in advance).”

Khadija Ismayıl, the chief editor of Toplum TV, declined to provide testimony. She was called in for interrogation at the Baku City Main Police Department (BCMPD) regarding the criminal case involving “Toplum TV.” Refusing the interrogation, she cited it as a breach of her rights. Ismayıl expresses concerns about the possibility of arrest, stating that there is always a looming threat. The journalist maintains that “Toplum TV” has never been implicated in any criminal activities.

The period of pre-trial detention for the journalists implicated in the “AbzasMedia” case – director Ulvi Hasanli and chief editor Sevinj Abbasova (Vaqifgizi) – has been extended. The journalists facing allegations assert that the charges of smuggling against them are false and that they are being targeted for their investigative work on corruption. They further stress their lack of confidence in the court’s impartiality and fairness.

During Sevinj Vaqifgizi’s court hearing, a dispute arose between her and Judge Rafael Sadigov. When Vaqifgizi stated that she was being punished for exposing corruption among government officials through politically motivated directives, the judge interrupted her. Vaqifgizi then directly addressed the judge, asserting, “You cannot interrupt me. Not only you, but also those who give you orders cannot interrupt me. Unlike you, I am a free person.” Vaqifgizi emphasized, “We have not committed any crime. Neither members of ‘AbzasMedia‘ nor ‘Toplum.’ In our investigations, we reported on officials’ involvement in smuggling. Now, being accused of smuggling ourselves is simply retaliatory.”

During a court hearing at the Baku Serious Crimes Court, political prisoner Bakhtiyar Hajiyev talked about smuggling with the direct involvement of Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy advisor to the President. He stated, “In 2020, I received money transfers via the Western Union system from Turkey and Germany. These funds were intended for Azerbaijani soldiers to purchase warm clothing. There were instances where the shipments had to be expedited without customs declaration. Consequently, I sought assistance from the president’s advisor Hikmet Hajiyev. With his intervention, the shipments were promptly released. You may consider this as an admission, and I acknowledge it. However, the allegations of smuggling grant funds into the country are unfounded, and I do not accept them.”

Hajiyev also directed appeals to Ombudsman Sabina Aliyeva and the President of the Western Azerbaijan Community, Aziz Alakbarli, regarding his and his friend’s unjust imprisonment. He stated, “Regrettably, both Rail Abbasov and I continue to be held in custody on politically motivated and false charges. I ask you to spare some time from advocating for the rights of the Corsican people and the residents of the Comor Islands to also defend the rights of journalists, economists, and public figures who, like us, are enduring the ordeal of political imprisonment. I urge you to take measures to expedite court proceedings and initial investigations, and to ensure that the Ombudsman’s Office personnel visit political detainees in detention facilities and oversee the judicial processes.”

Lamiya Cherpanova, the spouse of Aziz Orujov, the imprisoned head of Channel13, shares that Orujov had been battling neurological issues for quite some time. He struggled with shortness of breath and tremors in his hands. During her visits in detention, he would discreetly tuck his hands into his pockets to conceal them, according to his wife. Last night, the journalist’s condition deteriorated again, prompting an urgent transfer to a medical facility.

The Council of Europe insists on complete exoneration for civil society advocates in Azerbaijan. During the period from March 12 to 24, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe made several decisions to monitor the implementation of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights. This call for full acquittal is part of the decisions concerning Azerbaijan.

Governance and Corruption

Several high-ranking officials accused of embezzling millions of manats have been released from custody. Officials from the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic were arrested following operations carried out by the State Security Service two years ago. According to information obtained by Azadliq Radio, among those released from detention are former Finance Minister of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic Rafael Aliyev, former chairman of the Customs Committee Sahat Habibbayli, former head of the Customs Tariffs Regulation and Payments Department of this institution Mansur Asgarov, and Hicran Rustamov, who previously led the Urban Planning and Architecture Committee. They held these positions at the time of their arrest in November 2022. Orders and decrees were issued for their removal from their positions after their arrest. The investigation into these officials accused of embezzlement is being conducted by the State Security Service, and they themselves were held in the investigative isolation ward of the same institution. “Initially, a pre-trial detention measure for a period of 4 months was selected for them by the Sabail District Court. Later, the duration of pre-trial detention was extended several times by court order. When the last extension of detention expired, no further extension was submitted to the court. They have been released from detention,” reported Azadliq Radio.

It is reported that the Ministry of Defense has established an additional mechanism concerning the misappropriation of budget funds totaling 143 million manats within the defense system. All structures under the ministry are said to operate based on this mechanism. Major General Nizami Mammadov, former head of the Finance and Budget Department of the Ministry, stated this during a court hearing at the Baku Military Court on March 14. According to him, in military units and other institutions, a budget is prepared considering the personnel numbers, and funds are allocated from the budget under the category of “additional expenses.” During annual inspections, any unspent amounts are identified. Fifty percent of the identified amount is given to the person conducting the inspection. Of this 50%, 20% is allocated to finance, and 30% to inspection departments. “This practice has been in place since the establishment of the army in 1993. It’s not limited to my tenure. The system has operated like this for 30 years. It was the same during the tenure of the previous chief, Namig Poladov,” General Mammadov stated. He testified as a witness in the trial of Rashad Malikzadeh, former head of the Finance Service of the Training and Education Center of the army. Mammadov himself is currently in custody, and his trial is ongoing at the Baku Military Court. The cases of those held accountable for the misappropriation of 143 million manats within the Ministry of Defense system are being handled separately, with their trials conducted individually.

A video depicting allegations of a doctor’s involvement in bribery at the Shirvan City Central Hospital has surfaced on social media. The footage, reportedly filmed within the hospital’s Oncology department, has been shared on the “TikTok” social network. Despite attempts of Meydan TV official information from government bodies and the hospital could not be obtained. In Azerbaijan, patients afflicted with legally recognized conditions such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, hemophilia and thalassemia, oncological diseases, and hereditary blood disorders are entitled to free medication according to law. However, in practice, they are often denied access to this essential medicine.

March 19, 2024