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Polad Aslanov

BAKU -- A court in Azerbaijan has rejected a journalist's appeal after he was imprisoned on charges of high treason, which he and rights groups have said were politically motivated.

The Baku Court of Appeal on February 15 upheld a lower court’s decision to convict Polad Aslanov and sentence him to 16 years in prison.

His wife told RFE/RL that the ruling would be appealed in the Supreme Court.

Gulmira Aslanova said that the journalist has been on hunger strike for 15 days in protest of his sentencing, is complaining of kidney and stomach pains, and is not receiving medical care.

Aslanov, the editor of the and online news portals, is critical of the authorities in a country where Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says many media outlets have been silenced or have had to relocate abroad, the main independent websites are blocked, and at least two other journalists are currently in prison.

Aslanov was working on a story allegedly implicating members of the State Security Service in extortion when he was arrested in June 2019.

In November 2020, he was convicted on what RSF and the Committee to Protect Journalists called “trumped-up” charges of high treason for allegedly providing information to Iran.

Azerbaijan is ranked 168th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov

The Moscow-based Novaya gazeta newspaper on February 15 published official documents it says prove that many of the people allegedly killed in extrajudicial executions in Chechnya in 2017 had been detained by local police.

Novaya gazeta reported in 2017 that 27 detained individuals had been summarily executed in late January that year.

Chechen authorities have denied the individuals in question had ever been arrested, while the Investigative Committee rejected Novaya gazeta's request to launch an investigation into the allegations.

The North Caucasus region of Chechnya is controlled by Kremlin-installed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. Its security forces have been accused of gross human rights abuses for many years, including abductions, torture, and killings.

Citing documents Novaya gazeta said were obtained from the Chechen Interior Ministry, the newspaper reported on February 15 that the 27 were detained during a special operation following an attack against police officers in Grozny in December 2016.

In April 2017, Novaya gazeta officially handed to the Investigative Committee the list of the 27 people and an additional three men who, according to the newspaper, were also killed by the Chechen police during a campaign against gays in February 2017 in the region.

Investigators only confirmed that four men from the list had died, and two other men were announced as being alive.

However, Novaya gazeta said in its latest investigative report that the two in fact were brothers of two executed men identified as Mokhma Muskiyev and Shamkhan Yusupov.

The report also alleged that several men detained in Chechnya in January 2017 were pressured by local law enforcement to "take an oath of loyalty to the Islamic State [extremist group]" in front of cameras and then forced to denounce the extremist group.

The newspaper suggested that the videos were later used to declare the men as terrorists.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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