Journalist Faces Extradition From Ukraine To Azerbaijan, Fears For His Safety

A man walks past cars parked along a snow-covered street as snow falls in central Kiev, Ukraine March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich – RC11EBCD2960

New York, March 8, 2018–Ukrainian authorities should allow Fikret Huseynli (Huseinli), a journalist of Azerbaijani origin and a Dutch national, to leave the country safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Unknown assailants on March 5 attacked Huseynli, a correspondent for the independent online television channel Turan, at an apartment building he was renting in Kiev, according to news reports and Huseynli who spoke to CPJ yesterday over the phone.

Ukrainian authorities on October 14, 2017, detained Huseynli, under an Interpol red notice requested by Baku, and confiscated his travel documents as he was attempting to fly out of Kiev, according to reports. A Kiev court on October 27 ordered the journalist’s release on bail, but ruled that Huseynli should remain in Ukraine for two months while the prosecutor general’s office investigated Azerbaijan’s extradition request, the reports state. Ukrainian courts have twice extended the investigation term; the new deadline is March 20, 2018, according to the journalist.

In Azerbaijan, Huseynli is wanted for allegedly illegally crossing the border, fraud, and forgery. Speaking to CPJ, he denied all the charges, and said the prosecution was related to his journalism. Huseynli said he fears imprisonment if extradited to Azerbaijan. The journalist has covered the activities of the Azerbaijani opposition in exile and suspected corruption in the Azerbaijani government. He has also criticized Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev.

The assailants who attacked Hyseynli spoke Ukrainian and Azeri, he said. They beat him with their hands and knocked him to the floor, bruising his legs and throat, and breaking his dental bridge, according to the journalist who sent CPJ pictures of his injuries.

“We call on Ukrainian authorities to immediately return travel documents to Fikret Huseynli and allow him to leave Ukraine,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “Kiev must not be complicit with Azerbaijan authorities’ persecution of critics beyond its borders. We also call on Ukrainian police to investigate the March 5 physical attack on Huseynli, and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Ukraine’s prosecutor general has not answered CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

A CPJ phone call and an email to the Azerbaijani Foreign Affairs Ministry seeking comment have gone unanswered.

Speaking to CPJ from a Kiev café on March 5 prior to the attack, Huseynli said that Azeri-speaking men he suspects to be Azerbaijani security service agents had openly followed him since his release from a Kiev detention center.

The men approached him several times and told him Azerbaijan will rescind the extradition request against him if Huseynli reports positively on the Azerbaijani government and negatively about the opposition. They also threatened him with repercussions if he did not follow their instructions, the journalist told CPJ.

Huseynli, who currently heads the Amsterdam bureau of Turan, arrived in Kiev on October 7, 2017, to explore opening a Turan bureau in the Ukrainian capital, according to a video report from his employer. The online television channel broadcasts mainly from Strasbourg and Amsterdam, and has correspondents in other parts of Europe.

Huseynli told CPJ he feared abduction from Ukraine. In May 2017, his colleague, the independent Azerbaijani investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, disappeared in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he lived in exile, and re-emerged two days later in a detention center in Azerbaijan, CPJ reported.

Huseynli fled Azerbaijan in 2008 and was granted political asylum in the Netherlands where he has lived since. In 2006, while he was still living in Azerbaijan, unidentified masked men brutally attacked Huseynli, who was working for the independent newspaper Azadlyg at the timeCPJ documented.