Azerbaijani Journalist Deported, Charged with Treason (UPDATED)

UPDATE April 21, 2014

Baku court ordered Rauf Mirkadirov to three months of pretrial detention. He is being charged with treason for allegedly spying for Armenian secret service during his participation in nongovernmental peacebuilding initiatives since 2008.

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Over the weekend well-known Azerbaijani reporter for Ayna-Zerkalo newspaper Rauf Mirkadirov was deported from Turkey and brought to Azerbaijan. Upon arrival Mr. Mirkadirov, famous for his criticism of Azerbaijani and Turkish governments, was taken into custody by the Ministry of National Security and charged with high treason.

Turkish police took Mr. Mirkadirov and his family off the bus on his way to Georgia on Friday April 18 to check their documents and arrested him on the spot. According to Mr. Mirkadirov's wife Adela Babakhanova, the authorities said his immigration papers were expired. "We showed our documents that clearly stated we had a residence permit until the end of the year. The police officers said they will investigate in the precinct," said Mrs. Babakhanova. Mr. Mirkadirov was kept in the precinct not allowed to see or contact his family and was later deported to Azerbaijan.

Upon arrival to Azerbaijan Mr. Mirkadirov did not show up at the gate, where a group of journalists was expecting him. He was reportedly taken to the Ministry of National Security from the airplane. On April 20, lawyer Fuad Agayev informed Ayna-Zerkalo that he will be representing Mr. Mirkadirov as he is charged with the article #274 of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan: "State betray, that is deliberately action committed by a citizen of the Azerbaijan Republic to detriment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, state security or defensibility of the Azerbaijan Republic:  changeover to enemy side, espionage, distribution of the state secret to foreign state, rendering assistance  to a foreign state, foreign organization or their representatives in realization of hostile activity against the Azerbaijan Republic – is punished by imprisonment for the term of from ten up to fifteen years or life imprisonment with confiscation of property or without it." 

Mr. Mirkadirov's accreditation, which he held since 2010 was suddenly cancelled two weeks ago, six months before its original expiration date.

"We informed the Azerbaijani embassy in Ankara on the matter, but did not receive any response. Moreover, our attempts to appeal the decision to cancel his accreditation was not even considered. Later, Rauf was told he must leave Turkey on April 23 and never come back," editor-in-chief of Ayna-Zerkalo Elchin Shikhli told TURAN.

In his interview to modern.az Mr. Shikhli said he was aware of the cancellation two weeks ago, but did not want to cause a stir, since it was happening in Turkey:

“If it was a different country, I would disgrace them long ago. I haven’t made a big deal out of it because I consider Turkey a brotherly country. Rauf’s accreditation was cancelled without any explanation. He has been working in Turkey since August, 2010. Up until now there was no problem.”

According to journalist Sheyda Nasibli, Mr. Mirkadirov was on his way to Georgia to obtain a tourist visa when he was arrested. "His older daughter goes to school in Turkey. His spouse’s accreditation was also cancelled. However, deportation will not be applied to her.”

"Last night when Rauf tried to leave the country, he was detained and told that his visa has been expired. To which Rauf responded: 'visa is not expired yet, and I am about to leave the country anyway.' However, he was still taken into custody in front of his young daughter and wife. Up until now he was not given a chance to contact his family. They made his wife and younger daughter leave the bus in the middle of nowhere. They simply acted inhumane,” said Mr. Shikhli.

According to Yeni Musavat newspaper, Mr. Mirkadirov personally told Zaur Gurbanli, fellow-journalist who also lives in Turkey, that he was the victim of the exchange between two country leaders. Mr. Mirkadirov suspected that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan presented a list of Turkish citizens to be oppressed in Azerbaijan. Official Baku has presented a similar list of Azerbaijani citizens living in Turkey to the prime minister.

“I think my name is also in the list, and I will be deported per Azerbaijani Government’s request. I haven’t written anything to provoke Turkey, or cause deportation,” Mr. Gurbanli quoted Mr. Mirkadirov. Fearing that was the case, Mr. Mirkadirov expected to be arrested at the airport: “Therefore, he asked as many journalists as possible to come to the airport.”

Turkish Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Alper Coshkun told Yeni Musavat that he was unaware of the matter, as he was still in Turkey:

“If such a decision was made, it must have had some grounds. It wouldn't be right for me to comment on the matter.”  

This is the second case of deportation of Azerbaijani journalists since the beginning of the year. In early February Today's Zaman columnist Mahir Zeynalov was deported from Turkey for Tweets critical of the Turkish government and Prime Minister Erdogan.