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Toplum TV case in Azerbaijan: Arrests and detentions continue

Arrests and detentions continue in the Toplum TV case in Azerbaijan.

Since March 6, several employees of the independent online television channel Toplum TV, as well as representatives of the Institute for democratic initiatives (IDI) and members of the board of the recently established “Platform III Republic,” have been detained. These three organizations are connected by the fact that Akif Gurbanov is a co-founder of Toplum TV and “Platform III Republic” and also leads the IDI.

On March 8, the second co-founder of the independent online television, Alasgar Mammadli, and a member of the “Third Republic Platform” board, Ruslan Izzetli, have been detained. By court decision, five employees of the television channel have been arrested for four months as a preventive measure. Two employees have been released under police supervision.

These events follow the recent arrests of journalists from Abzas Media, online media “Channel 13”, and “Channel 11”.

Recent detentions

On March 8, around 11:00, Toplum TV co-founder and well-known media rights expert Alasgar Mammadli was detained as a suspect. A special unit in black masks detained him near the parking lot of a clinic, where he was for a medical examination.

He is accused of smuggling. He has serious health issues – tumors in his throat, rectum, and prostate, requiring surgical intervention. Today, he was detained en route to a biopsy,” noted his lawyer, Agil Layij.

On the same day, Ruslan Izzetli, a board member of the “Third Republic platform,” was detained in front of the Khatai district police department in Baku, where he arrived with other colleagues to inquire about the fate of those detained on March 6.

He was also detained on March 6, but was released on the same day.

Subsequent searches

Later, searches were conducted in the apartments of Alasgar Mammadli and Ruslan Izzetli.

During the search at Alasgar Mammadli’s apartment, €60,000 were found, his relatives reported. According to them, the money does not belong to him and was “planted by police officers.”

During the search at Ruslan Izzetli’s apartment, money was also confiscated. Meanwhile, his wife Gunel Manaflı, who works as a host on Toplum TV, was isolated in a separate room and did not see the search process. She claims that the money was planted in their apartment.

Mammadli and Izzetli are suspected of smuggling, committed by a group of individuals in a premeditated conspiracy.

The office of yet another independent media in Azerbaijan is sealed, employees are detained

The co-founder of the online outlet and several employees are accused of “smuggling by a group of people in a premeditated conspiracy”

Five arrested in the Toplum TV case

On March 8, court proceedings took place for the Toplum TV employees detained on March 6. The Khatai district court of Baku chose pre-trial detention as a measure of restraint for five defendants in the Toplum TV case – Akif Gurbanov, Ilkin Amrahov, Ramil Babayev, Mushfig Jabbar, and Ali Zeynal, for a period of four months. Farid Ismayilov and Elmir Abbasov were released and placed under police surveillance.

The defendants are charged under Article 206.3.2 (smuggling by a group of persons in a preliminary conspiracy) of the Criminal code of the Republic of Azerbaijan, as reported by their lawyers. They face from five to eight years of imprisonment under these charges.

The lawyers of the arrested plan to file appeals.

Pressure was exerted on those detained in the Toplum TV case, their lawyers reported.

Reaction from the International community

OSCE representative on freedom of the media Teresa Ribeiro expressed serious concern over the detention of employees of the independent online media Toplum TV in Azerbaijan.

“Repeated imposition of severe measures against media workers in Azerbaijan is deeply troubling,” Ribeiro stated on the OSCE website. “Journalists must be able to perform their work without fear of reprisal.”

I urge the authorities to release all detained journalists. All OSCE participating states have committed to fostering a safe working environment and protecting journalists,” emphasized Ribeiro.

The European Union also criticized the attack on Toplum TV and the “Third Republic platform” in Azerbaijan.

We are monitoring the situation regarding the new detentions of journalists and civil society activists (Toplum TV and the Third Republic platform).

The EU calls on Azerbaijani authorities to ensure freedom of expression, including a free and unimpeded space for independent journalism, in accordance with their international obligations,” stated Peter Stano, European Union spokesperson for Foreign affairs and security policy.

The German foreign office’s coordinator for the South Caucasus, Moldova, and Central Asia, Robin Wagner, commented on the arrests of Toplum TV journalists in Azerbaijan.

Very concerned about the arrest in Azerbaijan of Toplum TV journalists and activists following the detentions of other journalists and activists in previous months. Independent media and civil society must be protected,” Wagner wrote in his account on the X platform.

The French ministry of foreign affairs issued a statement on March 8, condemning the authorities’ repression against the media and public activists.

France is deeply concerned by the recent wave of arrests in Azerbaijan, once again targeting representatives of civil society and independent media.

We call on Azerbaijan to respect fundamental freedoms – especially freedom of speech and freedom of the press – in accordance with their international obligations, and to release those who have been arbitrarily detained,” the statement read.

In response, the Azerbaijani ministry of foreign affairs called Paris’s accusations “unfounded” and considered them an “interference in internal affairs.”