New York, July 5, 2012--Authorities in Azerbaijan should drop new, politically motivated charges against Hilal Mamedov, chief editor of a paper serving ethnic Talysh, and release him immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Mamedov, who edits the independent newspaper Talyshi Sado, was charged in a Baku court on Wednesday with separate counts of treason, incitement to ethnic and religious hatred, and drug possession, news reports said. If convicted, he faces a life term in prison, Reuters reported. The journalist, who has been imprisoned since June 21, was initially arrested on accusations of possessing heroin, news reports said. News accounts reported that his family said the police had planted the drugs found in his apartment.
In a statement published on Wednesday, Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry said Mamedov had undermined the country's security in his articles for Talyshi Sado (Voice of the Talysh), in his interviews with the Iranian broadcaster Sahar-2, and in unnamed books he had allegedly translated and distributed. The statement also denounced the domestic and international protests against Mamedov's imprisonment and said the journalist had used his office to spy for Iran.
Mamedov is the second Talyshi Sado editor charged with treason. Talyshi Sado is a twice-monthly newspaper of Azerbaijan's ethnic Talysh minority, a group of about 100,000 who live mainly in the southern part of the country, along the border with Iran.
"It is outrageous that a journalist would be accused of threatening Azerbaijan's state security because he published articles and gave interviews of concern to an ethnic minority," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Azerbaijan must immediately release Hilal Mamedov and halt its persecution of Talyshi Sado journalists."
In 2008, authorities convicted Novruzali Mamedov (no relationship to Hilal Mamedov), then chief editor of the newspaper, of treason, and sentenced him to 10 years in jail after a closed-door trial. Although authorities never made their evidence against the journalist public, news reports said the case was based on the allegation that he had received money from Iran to publish Talyshi Sado. Novruzali Mamedov died in custody a year later, amid disturbing reports that he had been denied adequate medical treatment in jail for several illnesses.
After Novruzali Mamedov's death, human rights and press freedom organizations, including CPJ, called in vain for an independent investigation into the incident. Hilal Mamedov, then the deputy editor, was on the forefront in openly criticizing authorities for their refusal to allow such an investigation and in insisting that his colleague's imprisonment had been politically motivated. Local human rights defenders said it was Mamedov's efforts in obtaining justice for his colleague that had caused the government's action against him, the Russian news website Gazeta reported. Since the former editor died in custody, Mamedov has not stopped actively seeking redress.
"The public resources devoted to silencing Hilal Mamedov should instead be directed to investigating the case of Novruzali Mamedov, who died in state custody under very questionable circumstances," CPJ's Ognianova said. "The government has a duty to address the many unresolved questions about its treatment of Novruzali Mamedov."