ROLE: Editor-in-chief, and founder, of Xural newspaper.
FOCUS: Politics and society issues. Zeynalli had been particularly critical of the ruling authorities.
ARRESTED: October 28, 2011 in Baku
CHARGE: Zeynalli was orginally charged with failure to implement a court decision and extortion. On May 4, 2012 another charge was brought against Zeynalli under Article 213.1 (evasion of taxes or other obligatory payments in significant amount) which was later dropped.
CONVICTED: Zeynalli was convicted on 12 March by the Baku Grave Crimes Court and was sentenced to nine years imprisonment. He was also fined 4,076AZN for tax evasion.
CASE DETAILS: Avaz Zeynalli was arrested on October 28, 2011 accused of trying to extort money from an Azeribaijani Member for Parliament with the ruling YAP party, Gular Mikayil Ahmadova. According to investigation, Zeynalli had told Ahmadova that he had information damaging to her public image and would publish the material unless she paid him a bribe of 10, 000 AZN (£8,000) . The MP maintains that the editor attempted to blackmail her.
On the day of his arrest, the editor was charged with extortion under Article 311.3.3 (receiving a large bribe) and 311.3.4 (receiving a bribe through the use threats) of the Criminal Code and sentenced to three months pre-trial detention by Nasimi District Court. On December 1, 2011 Nasimi District Court decided not to grant Zeynalli permission to serve his pre-trial detention under house arrest or be released on bail.
After his arrest Zeynalli’s lawyer, Elchin Sadikhov, stated that the journalist has experienced a long history of “psychological and legal pressures” beginning in May 2010, when he penned an article stating that the head of the Presidential Administration, Ramiz Mehdiyev, was the actual head of state. As a result several officials filed lawsuits to protect their honour and dignity.
On January 17, 2012, the same court, under Judge Shalala Hasanova, held proceedings on a motion filed by the Office of the Struggle against Corruption under the General Prosecutor’s Office. Despite a limited investigation, and no evidence for Zeynalli’s purported crimes, the court extended his pre-trial detention for a further three months .
In early 2012, an assessment was published into the treatment Zeynalli was receiving in prison and how his rights were being violated. After this, another lawyer working on behalf of Zeynalli, Masum Bayramov, noted that the attitude of the Penitentiary Service changed. On February 22, a statement made by Zeynalli was taken by officials of the Penitentiary Service from Sadikhov’s office. Sadikhov stated his intention to appeal against these actions .
On April 12th Nasimi District Court, under judge Emin Mehdiyev, once again extended Zeynalli’s pre-trial detention by another month . The same month, Zeynalli outlined his case in a letter addressed to the European Broadcasting Union, the organisation whose members broadcast the annual music event Eurovision. He stated – “In her written statement [Ahmadova] claimed to have an audio proof of the blackmail. The investigation inspected the recording and did not find any indication of a blackmail. It’s been six months since I was detained [and the] accusation against me has not been proved .”
CURRENT STATUS: Zeynalli’s trial reached its conclusion at Baku Grave Crimes Court on 12 March 2013. Judge Ramella Allahverdiyeva presided over the hearing. Zeynalli was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment in a ‘common regime’ prison.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: The Xural newspaper was founded by Zeynalli in October 2002 and published weekly until September 20, 2011 when it began producing daily editions. On October 17, Zeynalli wrote an article which accused Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, of not being interested in the national independence of the country.
Two days later, on October 19, the Narimanov district court sanctioned the confiscation of the newspaper’s property. The reason given was the paper’s failure to court-issued fines worth 19,000 AZN to Presidential Administration Head Ramiz Mehdiyev, Mass Media State Support Fund Executive Director Vugar Safarli, amongst others. The following day another article critical of President Aliyev appeared in Xural, and two days later the newspaper’s printing press refused to print the newspaper .
The confiscated property has since been sold, without the paper’s owners’ prior knowledge, and another investigation was started into the paper’s business affairs. A 3,625 AZN fine was imposed for tax evasion after the Tax Audit Departments concluded that taxes amounting to 7,251 AZN were not paid. However, it is thought that this amount has been calculated using over inflated circulation numbers and newspaper copy prices .
MP Gular Ahmadova is herself now being held in pre-trial detention following charges of embezzlement.
Compiled by ARTICLE 19 from a variety of sources. Current as of 27/03/2013.
Picture courtesy of IRFS.