Prisoners of Conscience: Polad Aslanov, Azerbaijan
In the summer of 2019 Azerbaijani journalist Polad Aslanov and his family were on their way to Iran to attend a friend’s wedding. Little did they know that they would not be able to make it for the ceremony. At a border crossing, trying to enter Iran, Aslanov was detained along with his wife and daughter. Later his spouse and child were released but he was charged with treason. Azerbaijani police accused him of conspiring against the government and selling state secrets to Iran. Authorities also confiscated some of his belongings after searching his and his mother’s homes.
The reporter denies all the charges. In the summer of 2020, Aslanov went on a hunger strike to protest the investigation and trial against him, which he believes, are politically motivated. Aslanov, founder and editor of two independent news websites Xeberman and Press-az, says he has been targeted because of an investigation of alleged high-ranking corruption and his previous criticism of the state.
In November 2020, a court in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, sentenced Aslanov to 16 years in prison for treason.
Following the sentence, international media rights organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, RSF, and Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, condemned the sentence and expressed concern that the Aslanov didn’t receive a fair trial.
“Everything indicates that Polad Aslanov is the latest victim of Azerbaijan’s constant persecution of critical journalists,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia bureau, in a statement. “We call for his immediate release and the release of the six other journalists who are unjustly imprisoned in Azerbaijan.”
CPJ also called Azerbaijan to free the journalist. “By jailing a critical journalist on trumped-up charges, Azerbaijan is only cementing its reputation as one of Eurasia’s leading jailers of journalists,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in a statement.
Aslanov is not the first Azerbaijani journalist to be detained on fabricated charges. In 2017 Afgan Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani investigative journalist living in self-imposed exile in Georgia, was abducted and detained in Georgian capital Tbilisi and was later convicted for smuggling. Two years earlier, investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, known for her investigations of high-ranking graft, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. After continued international pressure for their release, both Mukhtarli and Ismayilova have been freed.
In 2019, Azerbaijan, a country known for its tight control on media and its abysmal press freedom record, ranks 166th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.
Disclaimer: As of December 1, 2020, research shows that Polad Aslanov is still in prison, serving the remaining of his sentence.
Prisoners of Conscience from East and Southeast Europe
We feature select few prisoners of conscience out of the many in East and Southeast Europe. One political prisoner is one too many.
Find out who the other political prisoners are #PrisonersofConscience #FreeThemAll and in the special Focus on our website.