The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) expressed their distress after learning that authorities in Azerbaijan arrested Mehman Aliyev (no relation to Ilham Aliyev, president of the country), editor-in-chief of the independent news agency Turan, which is also currently undergoing legal scrutiny. The news agency Turan was founded in 1990.
The agency is accused of tax fraud and was put under investigation by the Department of Preliminary Investigation of Tax Crimes, along with an imposed financial fine that totals to more than 37,000 AZN (approx. 22,900 EUR). According to the state officials, Aliyev is responsible for the agency’s failure to register 148,310 AZN in grants that it received between 2010 to 2014, and for its failure to pay 60,080 AZN tax between 2010 to 2016.
Aliyev had fully cooperated with the investigation and tax-authorites. Aliyev was vocal in expressing his opinion that practically all media outlets and advertisement sources in Azerbaijan are under strict governmental control and that because of these pressures Turan has basically been profitless for the past several years, rendering the tax fraud charges senseless.
State authorities raided the Turan office on 16 August. On 23 August Aliyev was invited into the state tax department and Aliyev went with his lawyer voluntarily to the tax authorities. On 25 August, 2017, Aliyev was arrested and placed in pre-trial detention by a court in Baku for a period of 3 months. During this time he will be investigated on charges of tax evasion, abuse of office, and illegal business activity. If convicted, Aliyev could face a seven-year prison sentence.
“SEEMO deeply deplores the actions of institutions in Azerbaijan against Aliyev, news agency Turan and free press in general” Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General stated. “This type of ceaseless abuse and violation of human rights and press freedom is absurd. We urge the state authorities to release Aliyev and allow his agency to work freely. Governmental pressure put upon independent media outlets is the first and biggest indicator of a detrimental state of democracy and society” Vujovic added.
SEEMO is a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in South, East and Central Europe.