HRW condemns the arrest of Tofig Yagublu and demands the release of all journalists and activists

HRW condemns the arrest of Tofig Yagublu and demands the release of all journalists and activists

Azerbaijani authorities have arrested prominent opposition leader and implacable government critic Tofiq Yagublu on bogus charges of forgery and fraud, Human Rights Watch reported today. Yagublu's arrest is the latest in a series of arrests in Azerbaijan targeting journalists and other critics of the government.

Police arrested 62-year-old Yagublu, a former journalist who is an ardent critic of the government, on December 14, 2023, as he was exiting the metro in the center of Baku. He is a member of the opposition Musavat Party and a senior politician in the National Council of Democratic Forces, a coalition of opposition parties and activists in Azerbaijan.

“The Azerbaijani authorities continue to attack government opponents, journalists and other critics,” said Georgy Gogia, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch. “The arrest of Tofiq Yagublu fits into a pattern of suppressing critical voices in the country.”

On December 15, the Narimanov district court of Baku sentenced Yagublu to four months of pre-trial detention pending investigation on charges of forgery and fraud. The prosecutor's office applied for pre-trial detention, arguing that Yagublu would hide or obstruct the investigation, without providing any information to substantiate this requirement. The court also referred to the nature and severity of the crime allegedly committed by Yagublu when assigning pre-trial detention.

Human Rights Watch said that the decision to detain Yagublu pending trial on unfounded grounds for formality violates the standards for combating arbitrary detention provided for by the European Convention on Human Rights.

On December 14, police raided Yagublu's house, where they allegedly found 5,000 euros (5,465 US dollars), 2,500 Azerbaijani manats (1,500 US dollars) and an unspecified amount in US dollars in his bed. Authorities allege that Yagublu conspired with someone else to provide forged documents to a third party who allegedly helped him apply for asylum. The alleged accomplice was involved in other politically motivated cases, according to Human Rights Watch.

Yagublu denies all charges and says he was targeted because of his political activism.

Yagublu's wife, Maya Yagublu, was home alone when about 20 police officers showed up at their door. A group of police officers told her to follow them upstairs, while others stayed on the ground floor. After completing the search upstairs, they went down to the bedroom she shares with her husband, told her to lift the pillows on the bed, and then claimed they had “discovered" cash. “My mom was shocked to see so much cash,” their daughter Nigar Hezi told Human Rights Watch. “The day before, she had to borrow money from our neighbor because she didn't have enough money for dental treatment.”

During the search, the police confiscated a Wi-Fi router, Maya Yagublu's phone and an old laptop. They also took the notebook she kept to keep track of all outstanding debts, as well as a notebook with addresses and phone numbers. None of the confiscated items were returned.

In December 2022, the police installed three surveillance cameras across the street from Yagublu's house, which most likely monitored all movements around his private residence.

This is not the first arrest of Yagublu. The Azerbaijani authorities periodically arrested Yagublu, subjected him to ill-treatment and warned him to stop his political activism and criticism of the government. Yagublu previously spent three years behind bars on false charges of incitement between 2013 and 2016. In 2020, the court sentenced him to four years and three months on charges of hooliganism. In September 2020, the authorities granted his request for early release.

Yagublu's arrest is the latest in a series of at least 12 arrests targeting opponents, journalists and other critics of the government since November 20. The authorities have charged them with various criminal offenses, including smuggling, illegal entrepreneurship and hooliganism. The courts remanded at least 11 of them in pre-trial detention for up to four months after cursory hearings.

“The witch hunt conducted by the Azerbaijani government against critics is one of the manifestations of its contempt for freedom of speech and protection of human rights,” Gogia said. “The authorities must immediately release Yagublu and stop the repression against critical journalists and opposition activists.”-O6B-

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