Criminal Case Opened against Turan Independent News Agency in Azerbaijan

Update: 02 Nov 2017 No state reply yet
Year 21 Aug 2017 Country Azerbaijan Category Detention and imprisonment of journalists Source of threat State Partner Article 19 , CPJ , EFJ/IFJ , Index , RSF Alert level Level 1
21 Aug 2017 Azerbaijan Detention and imprisonment of journalists State Article 19 , CPJ , EFJ/IFJ , Index , RSF Level 1
No state reply yet

On 7 August 2017, Azerbaijan's tax authorities opened a criminal investigation against Turan, an independent news agency. Turan is accused of under-declaring profits since 2014 and faces a fine of over 37,000 manat (18,000 euros) in back taxes and other charges. The agency denies the allegations and has referred the matter to a Baku economic administrative court. They believe the proceedings are part of a government-orchestrated campaign to limit the organisation's critical reporting. They have faced similar allegations in the past, and an audit conducted previously demonstrated that they were complying with their tax obligations. Although Turan agreed to cooperate with the authorities and to provide them with the requested financial documentation, Turan’s office was raided by tax officers on 16 August. The following day, the authorities announced that they had extended period covered by their investigation and requested the agency's financial records since 2010. Turan is considered by many media freedom organisations as one of the last remaining independent media outlets in Azerbaijan.

Updates

02 Nov 2017 : On 2 Novembre 2017, the criminal case against Turan news agency was closed and charges against Mehman Aliyev dropped.
11 Sep 2017 : On 11 September 2017 Mehman Aliyev was released from pre-trial detention and placed under house arrest.
30 Aug 2017 : On 30 August 2017, the Baku Court of Appeal confirmed Mehman Aliyev's pre-trial detention.
25 Aug 2017 : On 25 August 2017 Mehman Aliyev was sentenced to a three-month pre-trial detention.Turan news agency has announced that it will suspend its operations starting from September 1 as a result of Aliyev`s arrest and the agency`s bank accounts being frozen.
24 Aug 2017 : On 24 August 2017, Mehman Aliyev, director of Turan news agency, was detained by the authorities as a suspect in a tax-evasion and abuse of power investigation.

Follow-ups

13 Sep 2017 : PACE monitors react to release of Mehman Aliyev in Azerbaijan.
11 Sep 2017 : Statement by the Spokesperson of the Secretary General on the release of Mehman Aliyev
11 Sep 2017 : OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media welcomes release of Azerbaijani journalist Mehman Aliyev, calls for all charges to be dropped.
11 Sep 2017 : Volodymyr Ariev, PACE General Rapporteur on Media Freedom and the Safety of Journalists, welcomes the release of the Director of Turan agency Mehman Aliyev.
31 Aug 2017 : CoE Commissioner for Human Rights dismayed at last blow to media freedom in Azerbaijan: Turan news agency Director Mehman Aliyev detained and announced suspension of agency operations.
25 Aug 2017 : CoE Secretary General calls on the authorities in Azerbaijan to respect the spirit of the country’s cooperation with the Council of Europe and to fully abide by its commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights in order to avoid yet another case of unjust deprivation of liberty which has no place in a democratic society.
25 Aug 2017 : PACE co-rapporteur on Azerbaijan (Sub-Committee on Conflicts between Council of Europe Member States) calls for the immediate release of Mehman Aliyev.

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20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Mehmet Altan’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Altan’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Altan’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.

20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Şahin Alpay’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Alpay’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 46 (binding force and execution of judgments) of the Convention, the Court held that it was incumbent on the respondent State to ensure the termination of Mr Alpay’s pre-tria detention at the earliest possible date. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Alpay’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.
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