Azadliq Newspaper Stops Publishing in Azerbaijan After Arrest of Financial Director

Update: 26 Sep 2017 No state reply yet
Year 18 Jan 2017 Country Azerbaijan Category Other acts having chilling effects on media freedom Source of threat State Partner Article 19 , AEJ , CPJ , EFJ/IFJ , Index Alert level Level 1
18 Jan 2017 Azerbaijan Other acts having chilling effects on media freedom State Article 19 , AEJ , CPJ , EFJ/IFJ , Index Level 1
No state reply yet

Azadliq, the main opposition newspaper in Azerbaijan, has been forced to stop publishing following the arrest of their financial director, Faiq Amirov, and ongoing financial pressures from state-owned or affiliated companies. Faiq Amirov was arrested on 20 August 2016 on charges of “inciting religious hatred” and “infringing the rights of citizens under the pretext of conducting religious rites”, after police allegedly found materials produced by Fethullah Gülen in his apartment and car. He is currently being held in pre-trial detention, accused of being an imam in the Gülenist movement. Rights groups believe the charges to be unfounded and politically-motivated; while Amirov has denied that the Gülenist materials are his, believing that the police planted them among his belongings. Amirov faces between two and five years in jail if convicted. According to his lawyer, Amirov has been denied medical treatment while in jail. Azadliq has long faced financial pressures, which have been exacerbated by Amirov’s arrest, resulting in the paper’s inability to pay the state owned printer a 20,000 manat (approx. 10,000 EUR) debt. The printer subsequently refused to work with the paper, and it has not been published since September 2016. Azadliq was unable to pay this debt on two grounds: first, Azadliq’s bank have refused to recognize Azadliq’s new financial director, meaning that the newspaper cannot access its funds. Second, according to a newspaper spokesperson, Azadliq was owed and 70,000 manat (approx. 35,000 EUR) by the state-owned distribution company GASID. Since being forced to stop publishing, the online version of Azadliq has reportedly faced repeated attempts to block access to the website. According to Qurium, the hosting provider of Azadliq’s website, there have been five incidences since November 2016 in which they recorded repeated attacks on the site, affecting the site’s ability to load, significantly restricting the ability of people inside Azerbaijan to access the site. In the most severe incident, on 15 December 2016, the site was fully unreachable within Azerbaijan. The site is continuing to experience DDOS attacks.

Updates

15 Sep 2017 : On 15 September 2017, the Baku Court of Appeal decided to release Faiq Amirov and place him on a three-year probation.
26 Jul 2017 : On 24 July 2017, a Baku court sentenced Faiq Amirov to three years and three months in prison. He was also fined 39,000 manats (20,000 euros).

Follow-ups

26 Sep 2017 : The CoE Commissioner for Human Rights recalls that any restrictions on access to Internet content should be based on a clear and predictable framework affording guarantee of judicial oversight to prevent possible abuses.

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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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