Mahammad Kekalov detained: Crackdown on media figures in Azerbaijan continues

Illustration: Meydan TV

On November 20th, social activist Mahammad Kekalov was taken from his residence by plainclothes police officers and remained unaccounted for two days.

Elshad Hajiyev, head of the press service at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), confirmed Kekalov’s custody, citing his involvement in an ongoing criminal case related to the independent outlet AbsazMedia. However, specific details about Kekalov’s location and the nature of the charges against him were not disclosed by the MIA spokesperson.

Kekalov’s abrupt detainment, where neither his legal counsel nor family could ascertain his whereabouts for 48 hours, raised concerns amid suspicions of potential mistreatment or torture during his absence.

Concurrently, the director of AbzasMedia, Ulvi Hasanli, was apprehended on November 20th under charges outlined in Article 206.3.2 of the Criminal Code, pertaining to allegations of group collusion in smuggling. Similarly, on November 21st, upon her return to Azerbaijan, editor-in-chief Sevinj Vagifqizi was detained at the airport, facing identical accusations. Searches were conducted at their residences and the office of “AbzasMedia,” with authorities claiming the discovery of 40,000 euros within the media institution’s premises.

Vagifqizi disputed the allegations, asserting the implausibility of such a sum within the office, humorously suggesting that if found, it would only be a pot of delicious food. On November 21st, both Hasanli and Vagifqizi were remanded in custody for four months by the Khatai District Court, charged with illegally importing money into the country under Article 206.3.2 of Azerbaijan’s Criminal Code. If convicted, they could face a maximum sentence of eight years in prison.

Despite their denial, attributing their arrests to professional endeavors, international organizations have condemned the arrests, labeling them as retaliatory actions against the free press. Calls have been made to Azerbaijani authorities to cease exerting pressure on independent media entities, denouncing the incidents as punitive measures taken against media freedoms.

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