Azerbaijan launches another media crackdown

Azerbaijan launches another media crackdown
The US State Department has criticised the latest Azerbaijani crackdown. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews March 7, 2024

Azerbaijani police have raided online independent broadcaster Toplum TV,  detaining several of the station's journalists, OC Media reported.

The move follows a media crackdown ahead of the presidential elections last month, won by President Ilham Aliyev, which international observers said were marred by widespread fraud.

Journalists Akif Gurbanov, Farid Ismayilov, Mushfig Jabbar, Ali Zeynal, Ramil Babayev, Elmir Abbasov and Ilkin Ahmadov were later reported to have been informed BBC Azerbaijan that "operational investigative actions"were being executed based on 'information received regarding the activities of a group of individuals".

Toplum TV was established in 2016 by media lawyer Alasgar Mammadli. The site’s editor-in-chief is the renowned Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayil.

The Azerbaijani political group, the Third Republican Platform, announced on the same day that they were unable to contact three of their members Akif Gurbanov, Ruslan Izzatli and Araz Aliyev, who is also a journalist for Toplum TV and presumed they had been detained by the police.

While Ruslan Izzatli and Araz Aliyev were released later, Akif Gurbanov was detained on charges of smuggling by prior agreement of persons (Article 206.3.2 of the Criminal Code). The police "discovered" 30,000 in the office, journalist Ulviyya Ali detained on charges of smuggling with police "finding" 3,100 in his house, AzeriWatchdog.

There had already been signs of Toplum TV facing governmental pressure. For example, pro-government Baku TV conducted a smear campaign against Toplum. In early February, Meydan TV editor Orkhan Mammad told OC Media that in the run-up to Azerbaijan’s snap presidential elections, pro-government media had frequently targeted Toplum TV.

"Today's crackdown on Azerbaijani broadcaster Toplum TV is the Aliyev regime's latest unacceptable attack on critical, independent voices in the country," Freedom House TURAN's inquiry. "We call on Azerbaijan to end the harassment of those exercising their fundamental freedoms and urge the release of all individuals being unjustly held in politically motivated cases. No one should face incarceration or other retribution for exercising freedom of expression," he added.