On Friday, March 3, Mehman Huseynov, Azeri human rights defender and journalist, was arrested by Surakhansky district court of Baku and sentenced to two years imprisonment on charges of defamation. The court found him guilty of “slander, which equates to an accusation of committing a very serious crime” under part 2 of Article 147 of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan.
The defamation charges are connected to Huseynov’s illegal detention on January 9. At the time, five plainclothes men forcibly dragged the journalist to an unmarked vehicle, put a bag over his head, and beat him. He was taken to an unknown location where he received a further beating from several unidentified men. The next day, on January 10, Huseynov was tried in a closed hearing at the 22nd Nasimi police station and charged with disobeying a lawful order from police officers.
Huseynov is a well-known journalist and human rights defender who has been documenting human rights violations in the country, as well as corruption within the highest ranks of Azerbaijan’s ruling establishment. According to Huseynov, the charges against him were ordered ‘from above.’ Several days before his detention, Huseynov published a video in which he interviewed Azeri citizens about President Ilam Aliyev’s recent decision to appoint his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, to the position of first Vice-President, the second most senior official in the country; the powerful position was created last year, through constitutional amendment.
During his testimony at the hearing at Surakhani District Court, he revealed the degree of intimidation and ill-treatment police have subjected him to. He also exposed the lawlessness that human rights defenders and journalists face for exposing human rights violations, crimes, and abuse of power under President Aliyev’s regime:
In December 2016, I saw a police officer keeping an eye on me when I was in a barbershop. As I had known him beforehand, I anticipated a provocation. When I left the barbershop, a man hit me with his shoulder in the street and tried to provoke me. I ignored him and went away. I later learned that their purpose was to arrest me and sentence me to several days in jail so that I spent the New Year’s Eve in jail. After that, I did not leave home for several days. A policeman, who is a friend of my acquaintance, sent me a message that a provocation was being plotted against me and advised me to not walk alone. So I did. On 9 January, I was with four people. When I walked away from them talking on the phone, 7-8 plainclothesmen approached me, brutally pushed me to the ground, shoved me into a car and put a bag over my head. Everything happened before the eyes of 30-40 people who were nearby, in addition to those who I was with. After driving around the city for a while, they brought me to one place but did not take the bag off my head. Both along the way and in the place where I was taken to, they held my head down, with a bag over my head and my mouth covered. At the Department, one of them lay on top of me, tormenting me even more. They filmed me in an insulting manner and laughed. Afterwards, they took the bag off my head. I recognised two of those who were in the room. I knew that they were working for the 22nd police station of Nasimi District Police Department because one of them had previously participated in the arrest of my brother Emin Huseynov. They openly told me that I was detained because of my activity. I fainted at the police office. I have a venous thrombus in my leg, and none of the hospitals admit me for surgery because I have not had any document for a long time. Due to that problem, I had a leg seizure. They called an ambulance. Then, they took me to another room and began to insult me. They even slapped me a couple of times. Doctors came and gave me an injection of some unknown drug. In that unconscious state, they had me sign some documents. Even the judge was shocked when looking at those documents, by how different the signatures were. Even the doctors of the first aid station told the policemen ‘why have you done this to a regular citizen.’
Read Huseynov’s full testimony here.