Azerbaijan Detains 10 Journalists in Pre Election Media Freedom Crackdown

Опубликовано: 24 Январь 2024

President Ilham AliyevA media crackdown began two weeks before President Ilham Aliyev announced the snap elections, rescheduled from 2025 to February 7, 2024. (Photo:, Wikimedia, License)

The Azerbaijani government has detained 10 journalists since November, accusing them of offenses such as smuggling foreign currency, hooliganism, or building a house without a permit. International press freedom watchdogs have deemed these charges "fabricated" and part of Baku's ongoing crackdown on media freedom.

The crackdown began two weeks before President Ilham Aliyev beginning December announced that presidential elections would be held earlier than planned, on February 7, 2024, instead of in 2025, raising concerns and speculation about the suppression of critical voices before the vote.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) reported that Abzas Media, which focuses on investigative reporting, JAM news, and Kanal13, an independent media outlet on YouTube, have been specifically targeted.

Elnara Gasimova, a reporter for Abzas Media, was arrested on January 13 for smuggling and sentenced to pre-trial detention until April 4. This followed the arrest of Abzas Media director Ulvi Hasanli on November 20. During a raid on his office, police claimed to have found 40,000 euros (US$43,564), which the media outlet had not declared to the authorities, as required by law. Hasanli alleged that officers had planted the money during the raid and that he was physically abused and tortured during his interrogation. He remains in jail.

Abzas Media asserted in a Facebook statement that Hasanli's arrest and the raid on his office were President Ilham Aliyev's attempt to suppress their investigations into corruption involving him and his appointed officials. Hasanli, Sevinj Vagifgizi, chief editor of Abzas Media, and Hasanli's assistant, Mahammad Kekalov, have been ordered to remain in custody for four months and could potentially face a maximum prison sentence of eight years if found guilty of "conspiring to bring money into the country unlawfully."

JAM news journalist Shahin Rzayev was arrested on January 15, on charges of "petty hooliganism" and sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention - a form of punishment for non-criminal infractions such as violation of public order. Administrative detention, which should not last longer than three months in exceptional cases, has been used as a political tool by the Azerbaijani government against opposition and journalists, according to the non-governmental organization Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF).

Aziz Orujov, founder and director of Kanal13, was arrested in November and sentenced to three months pre-trial detention on charges of constructing a house without a permit and currency smuggling. Freelance journalist Shamo Eminov, collaborating with Kanal 13, was also accused of currency smuggling.

Additionally, news anchor Rufat Muradli will spend 30 days for petty hooliganism and not following police orders while heading to an interview.