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Reporter Warns Of Dangers Of Covering Azerbaijani Protests

Elchin Ismayilli
Elchin Ismayilli
An Azerbaijani journalist says the authorities have attempted to curb his reporting of protests by offering him bribes and arresting his brother.

Elchin Ismayilli, a correspondent for the opposition "Azadliq" newspaper, was one of the few journalists covering the protests and riots in Ismayilli, a town 150 kilometers northwest of the capital, Baku, which took place on January 23-24.

After taking and uploading pictures and videos of the protests, Ismayilli says he was targeted by the Azerbaijani authorities and was only a step away from being arrested.

“I was offered bribes, told not to cover the protests, to stand aside and only observe. I was told not to spread information on social networks,” Ismayilli told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.

The protests erupted in Ismayilli after the authorities refused to shut down a local motel, which was allegedly functioning as a brothel. Rioters torched the motel, which was reportedly owned by the son of an Azerbaijani minister.

In a tightly controlled media environment, Ismayilli was one of the few journalists taking footage of the protests.

Ismayilli says that the threats and offers continued until February 4, when he said the authorities decided to switch tactics and arrest his brother.

"My detention could attract attention because I'm a journalist so they arrested my brother [Elshan] instead. I think this is connected with my activities. Now the threats and pressure on me have cooled down. They think they have made me silent," he says.

Elshan Ismayilov has been charged with instigating public disorder. On February 4, two Azerbaijani opposition leaders were arrested and charged with organizing mass disorder and, according to their lawyer, will face trial in the next few months.

WATCH: Footage taken of the protests by Ismayilli

Tofiq Yaqublu, the deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party, and Ilqar Mammadov, the chairman of the REAL movement, could face up to three years in jail if found guilty.

Salman Ismayilli, Elchin's and Elshan's father, says the latest pressure on their family was due to Elchin's journalistic activity, in particular his use of social networks.

But it is a claim denied by Nizami Qocayev, the head of Ismayilli's police department. He says Elshan Ismayilov was detained for participating in protests and illegal activity.

“Elchin is doing whatever he wants here for years. Who is he? Is he a major figure? The claims are absurd. He himself is inventing all this,” Qocayev says.

Now, Elchin Ismayilli says there is not any open pressure on him, but he feels he's being followed. Some activists are being told to sever links with him, he says.

Azerbaijan has seen a number of protests in recent weeks, with people taking to the streets with what they see as a corrupt government.

IN DEPTH: Azerbaijan's January Of Protests

Under a new law on unsanctioned protests, more than 20 people received fines for protesting in Baku. Three other activists were given jail sentences.

Authorities say 12 protesters remain in custody in Ismayilli, facing criminal charges of looting and organizing riots. Many others were fined.

-- RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service

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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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