Azerbaijani opposition journalist Fikret Huseynli was detained at Kyiv’s Boryspil airport on an Interpol warrant last week. According to the warrant, he is wanted by Azerbaijan on the vague charges of fraud and illegal border crossing.
According to his lawyer Dmytro Mazurok, Huseynli - who actually has Dutch citizenship - was in Ukraine to help set up a branch of TuranTV, an Azerbaijani opposition satellite channel that broadcasts from Europe.
This is not the only case of a foreign journalist being detained in Ukraine on an Interpol warrant. 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.
Both arrests raise concerns over the way in which Interpol is used by authoritarian regimes to target opposition activists and journalists. Freedom House even issued a statement on Huseynli’s arrest, accusing the Azerbaijani authorities of misusing Interpol, and urging Interpol to thoroughly investigate each request to avoid such abuses in future.
Hromadske spoke to Fikret Huseynli’s lawyer Dmytro Mazurok to discuss the journalist’s chances of release and the role Interpol had to play in his arrest.
Mr. Mazurok, to put this story into context - what can you tell us about Mr. Huseynli’s history back in Azerbaijan?
Previously, we have to say that he originated from Armenia, there he was a human rights defender and journalist, but he was in confrontation with the Armenian authorities and [was] forced to move to Azerbaijan. In Azerbaijan he was not successful too. He was arrested - illegally arrested - and beaten and even tortured and, because of this, in 2008 he [had to] for sure quit Azerbaijan to the Netherlands.
What brought him to Ukrainian eventually?
Photo credit: HROMADSKE
Yes, the official statement of Mr. Huseynli, he is here for preparing his marriage but now I realise that he unofficially has another goal. As of now, I can say [freely] about this, he works for Turan TV, the opposition satellite TV channel, all [their] stuff is located in Strasbourg, France, and they are intending to set [up] a Ukrainian branch of that Turan TV here. And the real goal of Mr. Huseynli was to perform all preparations to that.
How important and truthful are allegations that Mr. Huseynli was followed whilst in Kyiv?
Yes, and this is a good question because this is a ridiculous offences that are allegedly committed by Mr. Huseynli. The three allegations of crimes are: fraud, presenting false documents and organising illegal immigration. In general, this means that Fikret Huseynli helped other other Azerbaijan nationals, who is, I think, in a position to the Azerbaijani authorities too to get asylum seeker status in the Netherlands, France, Germany etc. so the allegation of the Azerbaijan authorities that Huseynli presented and performed false documents stated that authorities tortured, hidden and beat their nationals and, with the help of those documents, people [got] the asylum seeker status.
Mr. Huseynli was detained while trying to leave Ukraine. Why do you think he was allowed to come in?
I think the goal of the Azerbaijani authorities was to hold, was to arrest him, and to expel to Azerbaijan. They couldn’t do so if Mr. Huseynli was in the Netherlands because this is a real European country, with a real rule of law. But here in Ukraine, everything is possible. Fikret experienced close surveillance on him during his stay here in Ukraine. He entered Ukraine on October 7 and the “Red Notice” on the Interpol database appeared on October 11. So the Azerbaijani authorities somehow got information that he is here in Ukraine and [got] in touch with the Ukrainian border service, and because of this, the whole situation became true. I understand that, unfortunately, the General Prosecutor's office and the Ukrainian border office, in very close connection with the Azerbaijani authorities, because we had two hearings in Boryspil court, in this case, and the first part, the judges said: How can we expel, extradite Netherlands citizens to Azerbaijan? Is everything correct? He asked the prosecutor because in the warrant that came from Azerbaijan, they stated that Fikret is an Azerbaijani national and gave the number and the details of his ID, passport. At the next hearing, somehow appeared an additional paper the Fikret could use another, additional passport. How could the [know] about that?
So in these circumstances, what are your plans and actions as Mr. Huseynli’s lawyer and how good are his chances to be released?
I think, first of all, unfortunately our Prosecutor’s office works in a very formalized way. According to our code of criminal procedure, they have all documents performed as [it] says in law, they are obliged to go to the court and ask to temporarily arrest someone. But, our international obligations, according to the European Convention on Human Rights, European Convention on Extradition, convention on refugees, Ukraine is obligated to make its own investigation - is it possible? Is it safe to extradite any person to any country, without any formalities. They have to be as open with this matter as they can. So, our task is to appeal that order to temporarily arrest Mr. Huseynli. And our other task to ask the General Prosecutor just to release Mr. Huseynli because [he is afraid] of being murdered in Azerbaijan. This power is prescribed by the code of criminal procedure of Ukraine. This procedure is very clear.
Photo credit: HROMADSKE
Mr. Mazurok, your client Fikret Huseynli is the second opposition journalist from another country detained on an interpol warrant within two months. In September an Uzbek journalist Narzullo Okhunjonov, who had lived in Turkey for four years, was detained in Kyiv’s Zhuliany airport and he came to the Ukrainian capital to seek asylum, actually. On October 18, he was released from custody, so it seems that everything is fine with him now. But what do you say about Interpol and the authoritarian regimes in connection to this? Is Interpol being used by authoritarian regimes to put pressure on the opposition and what can Interpol do in relation to this?
Unfortunately the whole Interpol system became like a hand of undemocratic states that can just punish the citizens only for being in a position of what they do. Misuse of the whole Interpol system became a general practice fro Russia, Azerbaijan, unfortunately Armenia and Georgia. Another problem according to how the system is organised for now, there is no way to do anything with this because the procedure is clear, they do absolutely according to the law. But even the Interpol system organised the checking system. Now we work on that with our United States partners, human rights defenders, we would like to, in the court, appeal that “Red Notice” to the Interpol system.