An Azerbaijani journalist jailed on what human rights groups believe to be trumped-up charges has had his request for parole rejected.
The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan on Wednesday rejected human rights defender and journalist Elchin Mammad’s appeal to be released after serving a third of his sentence.
Mammad, editor of the Yukselish Namine news website and director of the non-governmental organization Legal Education of Sumgayit Youth, was arrested in the city of Sumgayit in 2020.
Police said at the time that they had found stolen jewelry in his office. In October 2020, a court convicted Mammad of theft and illegal possession of weapons and sentenced him to four years in prison.
Mammad denies the accusations, and journalists and human rights defenders say they believe his imprisonment is arbitrary.
Accusations ‘do not seem credible’
Farid Gahramanov, who works for the independent news agency Turan, told VOA that he believed the case against Mammad was political.
“As a journalist and social activist, Elchin Mammad is committed to protecting human rights and freedom of expression. We can say that he was arrested precisely because of that, because the accusations against him do not seem credible and have not been proven in court,” he told VOA.
Mammad’s website publishes content on human rights, freedom of expression and access to information. And his non-governmental organization provides legal assistance to low-income families.
Amnesty International reported at the time that the journalist’s arrest came a few days after he published a report on human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.
According to Amnesty, the journalist said he believed the police had placed the stolen goods in his office when they searched it in his absence.
Mushfiq Alasgarli, deputy chairman of the Azerbaijan Press Council, denied that Mammad’s arrest was related to journalistic activities.
The self-regulatory Press Council says on its website that it monitors the media’s compliance with legal and professional requirements and works to strengthen relations between the state, the public and the press.
“Although whenever some people are imprisoned, it is supposed to be related to their occupation, that is not the case with Elchin Mammad. The charges against him are directly related to illegal possession of weapons and robbery,” Alasgarli told VOA.
problem for the nation
However, Alasgarli said that he believed that detaining such people “creates a problem not only for Elchin Mammad, but also for Azerbaijan as a whole. International organizations denounce these cases. These facts are used against Azerbaijan.”
The vice president said that in some cases it might be more effective to release those prisoners.
The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan did not respond to multiple calls from VOA requesting comment.
Under Azerbaijan’s criminal code, parole can be offered to people who have served a third of their sentences, as long as they comply with prison regulations, Fuad Ahmadli, coordinator of the Center for the Protection of Political Prisoners and Torture Victims.
In October 2021, a district court rejected Mammad’s request for parole, arguing that although the journalist had not violated any prison rules, he had not pleaded guilty to the charges against him.
The Baku Court of Appeal upheld that decision in December 2021.
An affidavit filed with the penal colony court where Mammad is being held states that he “does not show sincerity in following the relevant standards of behaviour, ethical rules, communication with staff and other prisoners”.
Mammad’s lawyer, Fariz Namazli, told VOA that the journalist had followed prison rules and no disciplinary action was taken against him.
“In addition, his mother is 68 years old and seriously ill. Two small children of the human rights defender have been left without the care of his father,” said Namazli.
“The arrest of Elchin Mammad and the denials by the district, appeal and supreme courts are absurd,” said rights activist Ahmadli.
He told VOA that it is illegal for the court to keep someone in jail for “absurd considerations such as his negative attitude towards work, being an introvert and not keeping his bed tidy.”
Mammad himself told the court that the penal colony’s affidavit “does not reflect reality.”
The journalist said that he believes that he is prepared to carry out the will of the people who ordered his arrest and that they want to keep him in prison for as long as possible.
The Turan Gahramanov journalist said that cases like Mammad’s damage the country’s already restrictive media environment. Azerbaijan has a poor press freedom record, ranking 154th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, where 1 has the best conditions.
“Such severe punishment of journalists has a negative impact on freedom of expression in the country and serves to create self-censorship among journalists,” Gahramanov said.
Amnesty International and other international organizations have condemned Mammad’s conviction. Local human rights defenders recognize him as a political prisoner.
This story originated from VOA’s Azerbaijani Service.