European Federation of Journalists

Azerbaijan: Abzas Media’s journalist Elnara Gasimova arrested by the government

Posters of presidential candidates, including President Ilham Aliyev (top), February 2024. Credits: TOFIK BABAYEV / AFP

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) is calling on the Azerbaijan authorities to release journalist Elnara Gasimova and her colleagues from the independent investigative outlet Abzas Media, arbitrarily detained on suspicions of corruption. All charges held against them should be immediately dropped.

Summoned by the Baku City Main Police Department as a witness in a criminal case involving her colleagues from Abzas Media, 29-year-old Elnara Gasimova was arrested in 13 January 2024, becoming the sixth journalist involved in the “Abzas Media” case that started in November 2023. On 15 January, the Khatai District Court ordered her pre-trial detention for a period of two months and 17 days. Elnara Gasimova was charged for “conspiring to bring money into the country unlawfully” under Article 206.3.2 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code.If found guilty, she faces between six months and eight years in prison, and a fine. We add that at the police station on 15 January, an unjustified search of confidential legal documents was carried.

“I didn’t even think of an alternative,” the young journalist told Meydan TV about her arrest. “Like stepping outside an announcing I was leaving journalist. I must continue anyway.”

In previous months, the police had conducted a thorough search of Abzas Media newsroom, and allegedly discovered 40,000 euros in cash, that we believe were planted to serve as fake evidence to terminate the media’s operations. As of today, five other employees have been arrested: director Ulvi Hasanli, editor-in-chief Sevinc Vagifgizi, deputy director Mahammad Kekalov, journalist Nargiz Absalamova and journalist and financial editor of Turan news agency Hafiz Babali. The journalists have all been interrogated, and home searches were carried. Physical violence was used on Ulvi Hasanli, and Hafiz Babali’s bank accounts have been blocked. All six media workers have been denied communications with their families and lawyer.

We bring our unwavering support to the journalists targeted by a attempt to close down the independent newsroom, which had recently published on the alleged torturing and subsequent death of soldiers accused of treason and brought to light to wealth linked to president Ilham Aliyev’s government. We consider Elnara Gasimova’s arrest to be symptomatic of the crackdown on Abzas Media and other independent media outlets.

Attacks on independent journalists goes hand in hand with the repression president Ilham Aliyev imposes on civil society and human rights defenders. We demand of the government to respect democratic principles: freedom of speech needs to be protected in the country, in particular in the current elections context. 

Since November 2023, 10 journalists have been detained, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).