Islamist website editor sentenced to eight years in prison

Reporters Without Borders condemns the eight-year jail sentence that a serious crimes court in the southern city of Lankaran passed on Araz Guliyev (Араз Гулиев), the editor of the Islamist news website Xeber44, on 5 April.

“Regardless of the views expressed by Xeber44, it is clear that Guliyev’s defence rights were violated during these proceedings and the sentence has all the hallmarks of an act or revenge for his reporting and political opinions,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the courts to give him due process on appeal.”

Guliyev was tried along with seven other people, who were given jail terms ranging from three years (suspended) to eight years. They were arrested in September 2012 during a protest against a concert they regarded as “immoral.”

Guliyev’s lawyer, Fariz Namazly, said he was convicted of illegal possession of firearms (article 228.1 of the criminal code), organizing and participating in a public order disturbance (article 233), inciting national and religious hatred (article 283.1), resisting the authorities (article 315.2) and insulting the republic’s flag and insignia (article 324).

All eight defendants pleaded not guilty.

Guliyev’s conviction comes amid a revival of tension between Azerbaijan and its southern neighbour, Iran, both of which have repressive regimes that use arrests of journalists as bargaining chips in their diplomatic wrangling.

Azerbaijan is ranked 156th out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Iran is ranked 174th.