He may be a Dutch citizen visiting Ukraine, a country that strives for European integration, but even that couldn’t help Fikret Huseynli at Kyiv’s Boryspil airport.
On October 14, Ukrainian border officers detained Huseynli, an Azerbaijani opposition journalist, on an Interpol warrant as he prepared to board his flight to Dusseldorf. The journalist was quickly handed over to the airport police department.
Before being detained, Huseynli managed to write a short message on Facebook to his friends: “I am being arrested on charges of illegally crossing the Azerbaijani border.”
A correspondent for Azerbaijan’s Azadliq opposition newspaper, Fikret Huseynli has a long history of persecution by the authorities.
In 2006, while reporting in the Badamar district of Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, Huseynli was attacked and abducted by three unknown men. His kidnappers drove him to the edge of the city, where they threw him out of the vehicle, according to Reporters Without Borders. They then bound his hands, broke his fingers, stabbed him in the neck, and left him for dead.
Photo credit: facebook.com/Fikret.Huseynli
Huseynli survived and emigrated from Azerbaijan in 2008, due to the 2006 attack and continued political pressure. Recently, he has collaborated with TuranTV, an Azerbaijani opposition satellite channel that broadcasts from Europe, and has taken part in protests of Azerbaijani political emigrants in Europe.
Even living abroad, he appears to have remained on Baku’s radar. While visiting Kyiv this month, Huseynli felt he was being followed, Yalchin Gahraman, an Azerbaijani activist living in Ukraine, told JAMnews.
According to the Caucasian Knot news agency, Azerbaijan has opened a criminal case against Huseynli on two vague charges: fraud and illegal border crossing.
In the wake of Huseynli’s detention, Oksana Romanyak, executive director of the Institute of Mass Information, noted that this is the second recent case of a journalist being arrested in Ukraine on an Interpol warrant for charges that are likely politically motivated.
“I think Interpol must somehow take greater responsibility for checking the information in its database,” she wrote on Facebook. “We’re going to speak with international organizations, to seriously raise this issue before Interpol, which is becoming a mechanism for putting [political] pressure on journalists.”
The first such case was that of Uzbek journalist Narzullo Okhunjonov, detained at Boryspil earlier this month after coming to Ukraine from Turkey to seek asylum. He is now awaiting a decision on whether Ukraine will extradite him back to Uzbekistan.
Now, Huseynli faces a similar predicament. On October 17, a Kyiv court ruled to hold the Azerbaijani journalist in custody for 18 days. His lawyer, Dmytro Mazurko, is currently preparing an appeal to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, who can cancel the arrests if there are sufficient grounds not to extradite Huseynli.
Mazurko and representatives of the Dutch Embassy in Ukraine have also performed a migration check and confirmed that Huseynli received political asylum in the Netherlands, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.
Still, Huseynli has reason to be worried. After his arrest, he told RFE/RL, “It’s impossible to return me to Azerbaijan in a legal way. I have the feeling that they want to kidnap me, and illegally transfer me to Azerbaijan like [they did with] Afghan Mukhtarli.”
He was referring to another Azerbaijani opposition journalist living in Georgia. After going to meet a friend in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in July, Mukhtarli disappeared. The next day he turned up in police custody in Baku.
On October 18, Freedom House released a statement on Huseynli’s arrest, urging the Ukrainian government to release him and stop the extradition procedure.
According to Marc Behrendt, director of Eurasia programs at Freedom House: “The government of Ukraine should both release Huseynli from detention and stop any extradition procedures based on the Interpol arrest warrant requested by Azerbaijan, a warrant that reflects Azerbaijan’s harassment of journalists rather than any actual criminal offense.”
Freedom House accuses the Azerbaijani authorities of misusing the Interpol system “to persecute political opponents, journalists, and human rights activists.”
The organization also encourages Interpol to investigate each request thoroughly in order to prevent this kind of abuse from occurring.
/By Matthew Kupfer