Thomas de Waal: ”Mirkadirov’s arrest was awful and the court’s decision on suspended sentence was pointless”
Baku Court of Appeal released Azerbaijani columnist and journalist Rauf Mirkadirov on a suspended sentence on
March 17, 2016. However, he is still unable to reunite with his family, which fled to Turkey earlier. Habibulla Mirkadirov, his father, passed away from a heart attack after police searched his flat.
Mirkadirov was charged with treason and accused of espionage for Armenia and was sentenced to six years imprisonment by Baku Court of Grave Crimes in December, 2015.
Mirgadirov was detained by the Turkish police in Ankara on April 19, 2014, deported to Azerbaijan and handed over to employees of the Ministry of National Security (NMS). He had time to inform his friend Zaur Bayramli that he had been the victim of bargaining between the two countries (Azerbaijan and Turkey), according to a story in Azadliq.
“Rauf Mirkadirov was analyzing geopolitical processes in Western Europe, South Caucasus and Middle East and his articles caused tense discussions,” wrote prominent Azerbaijani journalist Gulu Maharramli in his Facebook post. Maharramly has also noted that Mirkadirov was writing about Russia’s negative impact on actions in the South Caucasus: ”His articles irritated Moscow. Consequently, he was arrested according to a political decision ordered by Russia,” claimed Maharramli.
Mirkadirov was arrested due to a criminal case launched against Azerbaijani human rights defender Leyla Yunusova, who had been sentenced for 8 1/2 years on the same charges. Both were active in people-to-people diplomacy between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which is thought to soften the tension between nations and contribute to conflict settlement.
A joint statement issued by Ministry of National Security of Azerbaijan and Chief Prosecutor’s Office stated that since 2002 Rauf Mirkadirov, under the guise of a journalist, has been involved in “Region” Research Center of Laura Bagdasaryan, and together with “Peace and Democracy” organization established by Leila Yunusova, contacted international donors and worked for foreign intelligence. In 2008, Mirkadirov had a meeting behind closed doors with David Shakhnazaryan, former Minister of National Security of Armenia, during a conference organized by Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Turkey.
After that meeting, Mrkadirov corresponded with Bagdasaryan and said that he had completely agreed with whatever Shakhnazaryan told him about settlement of Nagorno- Karabakh conflict. He supposedly distributed information about the current situation in social, political, industrial, energy, and military-technical spheres and shared the plans and photos of military units, airports and other strategic facilities of military [Office1] [Office2] importance.
In an interview after being released, Mirkadirov denied the charges brought against him.
“I am not guilty. The prosecutor could not present any piece of evidence about my 'espionage' for Armenia.” he said.
The investigator of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Thomas de Waal, called the journalist’s release a gesture by President Ilham Aliyev to Washington prior to a nuclear summit. ” Mirkadirov’s arrest was awful and the court’s decision on suspended sentence was pointless,” de Waal told the BBC.
According to human rights defender Ogtay Gulaliyev, charges against Mirkadirov are absurd: “The prosecutor did not find enough evidence against him. The suspended sentence was politically motivated. He must be acquitted.”
Mirkadirov’s lawyer Fuad Agayev said that they will continue the struggle for Mirkadirov’s acquittal.
Currently four journalists and three bloggers are in prison in Azerbaijan for different charges.
Leading investigative journalist Khadija Ismailova was sentenced 7 years and 6 months on four charges (disclosing state secrets, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, abuse of official authority) in 2015.
The host of satellite TV program “Azerbaijan Hour” Seymur Haziyev was sentenced to 5 years in jail on hooliganism charge in 2015.
Nijat Aliyev, editor-in-chief of www.azadxeber.az, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug possession in 2013.
Araz Guliyev, the editor-in-chief of www.xeber44.com ,was sentenced to 8 years in jail on an arms possession charge in 2013.
Bloggers Abdul Abilov(5.5 years), Rashad Ramazanov(9 years) are under arrest on drug possession charge.
Blogger Faraj Karimov serves his 6.6 years’ term in prison on drug trafficking.