New Charges Against Azerbaijani Blogger Mehman Huseynov, Now on Hunger Strike, A Cruel Punishment for Investigative Journalism
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK—New criminal charges brought against the imprisoned reporter and blogger Mehman Huseynov just weeks before his release date are a cruel step by Azerbaijani authorities to punish him for his critical journalism, PEN America said in a statement today.
Huseynov, a popular Azerbaijani blogger and journalist known for his hard-hitting exposés of alleged corruption by senior officials, has been in prison since March 2017, ostensibly for defaming an entire police station. On December 26, 2018, new charges were brought against him of “resisting a representative of the authorities with the use of violence dangerous to his health and life,” for which he may be sentenced to seven years in prison if convicted. The charges were brought two months before the end of his prison sentence, and only after he had publicly accused the regime of causing the death of his mother (who passed away in a hospital in August 2018) and demanded the start of a comprehensive criminal investigation. Despite these new charges, his lawyers were not allowed to visit him in prison and he was put in solitary confinement, for which no legitimate grounds were submitted. In protest of growing pressure from the authorities, he declared a hunger strike on December 27, 2018, and is currently in critical condition.
Alongside reports in recent weeks of increased harassment of other prominent journalists such as Khadija Ismayilova, the charges against Huseynov represent a renewed assault on free expression in an already repressive atmosphere. The ruling family in Azerbaijan has little toleration for public debate critical of the government, as critical speech is subject to harsh penalties, access to independent media websites are blocked, and journalists and activists are routinely imprisoned. Defamation lawsuits, as well as other trumped-up legal and administrative charges, are frequently used to silence and punish journalists, who are unlikely to receive a fair trial. Recently the government expanded the scope of criminal defamation and amended martial law to expand permissible information controls.
“The escalation of legal harassment against Mehman Huseynov—over the holiday period, and just months before his release—is an inhumane step that perfectly embodies the calculated crackdown against dissenting voices in Azerbaijan,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “We condemn these brazen tactics against Huseynov, and call for authorities to withdraw these new charges and to give him speedy access to his lawyers and to adequate medical care.”
PEN America has previously advocated on behalf of journalists and writers in Azerbaijan including Mehman Huseynov, Akram Aylisli, and Rashad Ramazanov. In 2015, crusading investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova received the PEN/Freedom to Write Award.
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