Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on Azerbaijan to provide urgent medical assistance to a journalist who has been in prison for 19 months and on a hunger strike for more than a week.
Polad Aslanov’s “already poor health is now failing after eight days on hunger strike to press his demand for a fair trial and transfer to house arrest,” the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said in a statement on February 9.
RSF said Aslanov weighed only 44 kilograms when he began the hunger strike and he is now complaining of kidney and stomach pains.
The group quoted the journalist’s wife as saying he is not receiving any medical care.
Gulmira Aslanova fears her husband could be “transferred to a cell for ‘tuberculosis patients’ where conditions are unsanitary and conducive to the transmission of diseases,” according to the statement.
Aslanov, the editor of the xeberman.com and press-az.com online news portals, is critical of the authorities in a country where RSF said 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 called “trumped-up” charges of high treason for allegedly providing information to Iran.
The journalist denied any wrongdoing and filed an appeal a few days after his conviction, but a court began hearing his appeal only on February 4 — a delay for which RSF said there was no justification.
RSF said Aslanov was expelled from the initial appeal hearing for protesting against the illegal presence of state security agents involved in bringing the original charges against him. He also objected to the judge’s decision to bar reporters from the hearing.
The Azerbaijani authorities “continue to persecute Polad Aslanov, who was already convicted in a completely arbitrary manner,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“We condemn this inhuman treatment that is putting a journalist’s life in danger and we call on the Azerbaijani authorities to provide him with medical care and to ensure that he gets a fair hearing when the court considers the substance of his appeal on 15 February,” Cavelier added.
Azerbaijan is ranked 168th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
Critics of Azerbaijan’s longtime President Ilham Aliyev and his government say authorities in the oil-rich South Caucasus nation frequently seek to silence dissent by jailing journalists, human rights activists, and civil-society advocates.
Aliyev denies any rights abuses. He took power in 2003 shortly before the death of his father, Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer and communist-era leader who had ruled Azerbaijan since 1993.