Azerbaijan’s police this week showed one of the country’s most popular journalists and bloggers, Mehman Huseynov, the cost of being a tenacious journalist these days in the country. In the evening of Monday, January 9, 2017, after Huseynov didn’t show up for a planned meeting, family and friends feared for the worst, and they had every reason to.
A group of plain-clothes officers had attacked Huseynov, known for his reporting on alleged corruption by senior government officials, as he walked alone in downtown Baku. The attackers bound Huseynov’s eyes and mouth with towels and forced a bag over his head. They used an electroshock weapon on his groin and punched him, bloodying his nose. After stuffing him into a car, police drove Huseynov around for approximately four hours before they took him to the Nasimi district police station, where they formally arrested him.
In the police station, Huseynov was barely conscious. Police forged his signature on documents he refused to sign.
Huseynov has been in the government’s sights for years, since the authorities pursued the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS), founded by Huseynov’s brother, Emin, with bogus criminal charges, forcing Emin Huseynov to flee the country for his own safety. Since then, Mehman Huseynov has been under a travel ban and repeatedly intimidated by police.
No one knew of Mehman Huseynov’s whereabouts until authorities finally brought him to court Tuesday afternoon. He was charged with and found guilty of disobeying police orders and fined 200 manat (US$120). Police claimed he had been fighting on the street and refused their orders to stop. Huseynov denies the allegations or that anything of the kind happened. He was simply abducted from the street.
Huseynov’s lawyer, who was allowed see his client for the first time only in the courtroom, said he could see signs of injuries to Huseynov’s legs, groin, hands, and eye. The judge ordered an investigation into the ill-treatment allegations. Huseynov, although in need of medical care, could not get treatment in a hospital because he currently has no identification card. The authorities confiscated his card in 2014, falsely claiming it was fake. They have refused to grant him a new one, despite repeated applications.
Despite his ordeal, Huseynov remains defiant. He has asked the prosecutor general’s office to open an investigation into his ill-treatment. In interviews immediately after his release, he pledged to carry on with his journalism and activism, despite the high price he has already paid for the work he believes in.