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Azerbaijan Jails Journalist for 16 Years

Azeri journalist Polad Aslanov is seen in an undated photo from his Facebook page.
Azeri journalist Polad Aslanov is seen in an undated photo from his Facebook page.

The wife of an Azeri journalist jailed for 16 years says she believes the conviction is politically motivated and in retaliation for her husband's reporting.

A court in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, on Monday convicted Polad Aslanov of treason. Aslanov is the founder and editor-in-chief of Xeberman, a news portal that reports on local and international events including allegations of government corruption.

Aslanov's wife, Gulmira Aslanova, told VOA she believes the verdict is unjust and that she intends to appeal, adding that she rejects the validity of the entire judicial process.

"The trial investigation has been ongoing for 17 months, but they have not been able to produce a single fact with regard to Polad Aslanov's case," Aslanova told VOA.

She said she believes the case is politically motivated and related solely to her husband's journalistic work.

State Security Service officers detained Aslanov, along with his wife and daughter, at a border crossing when they attempted to travel to Iran for a wedding in June 2019.

The journalist's wife and daughter were released, but Aslanov was charged with high treason for allegedly passing information involving Azerbaijan's "state security and defense capability" to foreign governments, including court proceedings, said Iran.

"None of the testimonies provided by 18 state witnesses presented evidence that proved Aslanov [was] a spy or committing treason," Aslanova said.

Hunger strike

In August, the journalist went on a hunger strike to protest his detention, according to the Council of Europe's safety of journalists platform. The journalist believes the arrest is connected to his critical reporting on officials and into allegations of corruption in the state security services.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international watchdog that promotes press freedom, said authorities should release Aslanov and not contest his appeal.

"By jailing a critical journalist on trumped-up charges, Azerbaijan is only cementing its reputation as one of Eurasia's leading jailers of journalists," Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at CPJ, said in a statement.

'Troubling' arrests

At least six journalists were jailed in Azerbaijan for their work at the time of CPJ's most recent prison census, released December 2019.

The political counselor to the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe described arrests in Azerbaijan, including that of Aslanov and members of opposition political parties, as troubling.

"We urge the government to release all those incarcerated for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms – including Fuad Gahramanli and Polad Aslanov," Elisabeth Rosenstock-Siller said in an October statement to the Permanent Council in Vienna. Gahramanli, a leading member of the Popular Front Party, was arrested on July 23 and is currently held on house arrest.

Frequent arrests of journalists and a crackdown on media outlets not controlled by the government have contributed to the dismal state of press freedom in Azerbaijan.

Almost all major independent news outlets are based outside the country, where the government has a limited reach. VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the BBC have been prohibited from broadcasting in Azerbaijan on FM frequencies and television since 2009.

Azerbaijan ranks 168 out of 180, in RSF's press freedom index, where 1 is the most free.

This story originated in VOA's Azerbaijani Service.