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Dissident Blogger Arrested in Azerbaijan

BY Lisa Goldman | Thursday, October 11 2012

The apparently politically motivated arrest of an Azeri opposition blogger and activist has elicited heated responses from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Amnesty International. Zaur Gurbanli was arrested on September 29 by plainclothes members of the interior ministry's organized crime unit, but was held incommunicado for two days before the announcement of his detention, which was extended for a further 15 days.

One of the leaders of the NIDA movement of young opposition activists, Gurbanli was arrested near his Baku home on the morning of 29 September by about ten plain-clothes men who identified themselves as members of the interior ministry’s organized crime department and forced him to get into a car.

Thereafter, he was held incommunicado for 48 hours in an unknown location, without being allowed access to a lawyer or his family and without any official explanation for his arrest.

It was only on 1 October that the interior ministry’s press office announced that he had been placed in administrative detention for 15 days pending trial on a charge of refusing to cooperate with a police investigation into drug trafficking.

Local activists fear that new charges will be brought against him when the investigation is completed. Gurbanli’s lawyer, Ashabali Mustafayev, told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty that he was trying to ensure that his detention was not extended beyond the current 15-day period.

After arresting him, the police took him with them when they searched the headquarters of the "Positive Change" youth movement and seized about 8,000 copes of a leaflet that NIDA published with a view to next year’s election. It shows President Ilham Aliev’s profile over the words: "I will leave in 2012 if you join NIDA."

Freedom House ranks Azerbaijan "not free" in its Freedom of the Press Survey, giving it a "dismal" 79 out of 100, with 100 being the worst possible score, while RSF gives ranks it 162nd out of 179 countries in its Press Freedom Index.

Perhaps ironically, Azerbaijan won its bid to host the 2012 Internet Governance Forum (IGF). It will take place on November 6-9 in Baku.

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