Little Suad received a letter from her father detained in Azerbaijan

Image by Arzu Geybullayeva

In November 2023, Global Voices’ content partner Abzas Media, an independent news outlet was targeted by the Azerbaijani state. Numerous Abzas media journalists and editors were arrested on bogus corruption charges and still await trial in Baku. Among them is Ulvi Hasanli,  Abzas media director, who was detained on November 20. Both Hasanli’s home and the Abzas Media office were searched by police. In the latter case, police claimed they had discovered EUR 40,000 in cash. Hasanli denied having any connection to the money. In a statement shared on their Facebook page, the platform said, “As Abzas media we inform you, that Hasanli’s detention, the search at his house and on the premises of the office, are unlawful. All that is happening is directly related to [Hasanli’s] journalism. We demand immediate release of Hasanli.”

Since 2016, Absaz media has been targeted with numerous denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, where a site is blocked for public access. In 2017, the website was blocked domestically, forcing the website managers to switch the website’s extension. In April 2020, the website was hacked in another cyberattack and, as a result, lost a month’s worth of published articles, and some of the articles’ headlines were tampered with. The platform was targeted again in February 2021.

Hasanli was sentenced on November 21, 2023, to four months’ pre-trial detention on a charge of “smuggling foreign currency.” If convicted, he is facing a possible eight-year prison sentence.

On February 28, Hasanli published an open letter to his daughter Suad. Global Voices translated the original text and publishes it here.
An open letter to my dearest daughter
My beautiful daughter Suad! I miss you. I have been deprived of seeing, hugging, and hearing your laugh for 90 days. My friends and I — Sevinc Vagifgizi, Nargiz Absalamova, Elnara Gasimova, Mahammad Kekalov, and Hafiz Babali — have been arrested because of our journalism.
My dear daughter, right now, you are just one year and six months old. When we were arrested, you were not even walking yet. But a month ago, during one of the hearings, my lawyer, Zibeyde, told me you are now walking. Perhaps these are your most beautiful and adorable times. Since I last saw you, you have developed new mimics and new behavior. I wished to see these moments and live them. I say “I wished” because not a day went by that we did not expect our imminent arrest for investigating and exposing the corruption that has stolen today and the future of Azerbaijan. And that is exactly what happened. We got arrested. Because Azerbaijan has turned into the world’s most repressive country. And the journalists must work under these dangerous and intimidating times.
My dearest daughter, you are not old enough to read what I write today. But I write this letter because I ask for your forgiveness for not being by your side and for you not to blame me in the future once you understand what happened.
Beautiful Suad, all Abzas Media journalists have been isolated in the harshest terms since their arrest three months ago. We were banned from seeing our loved ones, to hear their voices over the phone. They violently prevented me from hugging even you, an 18-month-old baby for just five to ten seconds. I still cannot see or embrace you. The totalitarian Soviet regime has been re-established in Azerbaijan, while the Soviet mentality governs the country. Today, children are being punished because of their fathers, mothers, and parents because of their children. Our mothers are prevented from retrieving their sole income — their pensions — because their cards are blocked, while our friends’ bank accounts have been frozen, and they are banned from leaving the country.
For the first time in Azerbaijan’s history of independence, a media organization is faced with total repression as a result of its critical work and investigations. As if it was not enough to arrest us, they are taking revenge on us by intimidating our family members and friends indiscriminately. Even those accused of the gravest of crimes have not faced such restrictions. We often hear from the media that such and such defendants met with their relatives or spoke on the phone with their family members. Meanwhile, we are treated as if exiled or sent to concentration camps, and our family members are being punished because of us, and intimidated.
My dear daughter, I could have written this letter personally to you. But I thought it was important to publish it publicly because it is important today and for historical records. In the future, when you read this letter, you will understand better what dark times Azerbaijan went through.
This is all for now, my daughter.
With Love, Ulvi,
February 2024
On February 28, President Ilham Aliyev, during a meeting with the executive director of the German Eastern Business Association, Michael Harms, said he regretted how Azerbaijan is portrayed in German media as a “country where freedoms are not ensured, people are imprisoned for their opinions, and it is depicted as a despotic country ruled by dictatorship.” These were fake allegations, added the President.
But the wave of arrests paints a different picture. Azerbaijan was ranked “not free” in this year's Freedom House annual “Freedom in the World” report. In its annual index on press freedom, Reporters Without Borders placed the country 151st out of 180 countries, noting, “President Ilham Aliyev has wiped out any semblance of pluralism, and since 2014, he has sought ruthlessly to silence any remaining critics.”
Other human rights watchdogs and governments have weighed in on the detentions, with Amnesty International saying they have “significant concerns” about the arrest, and other international press groups calling for the release of those unlawfully placed behind bars.

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