The arrests of the director and editor in chief of Abzas Media come after a series of reports looking into officials’ wealth.
Two journalists have been arrested in Azerbaijan, according to their lawyers, after their media outlet recently published a series of reports looking into the wealth of high-ranking government officials and the family of President Ilham Aliyev.
Sevinj Vagifgyzy, the editor in chief of privately owned Abzas Media, was arrested and her home was searched on Tuesday, her lawyer and Abzas Media said.
A day earlier, police also arrested Ulvi Hasanli, the director of the same media outlet, on charges of “smuggling foreign currency”.
Hasanli pleaded not guilty to the charges, for which he could face 12 years in prison, his lawyer Zibeyda Sadygova said.
Abzas Media reported that Hasanli faced “inhumane treatment” while in custody, including being punched and kicked by officers who asked him about his corruption investigations.
Meanwhile, police also raided the media outlet’s office in Baku and kicked out journalists attempting to document the search from outside, footage from Abvas Media shows.
Abzas Media is one of the few independent media outlets left in Azerbaijan following a near decade-long campaign against independent media and press rights groups, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
Natalia Nozadze, a South Caucasus researcher with rights group Amnesty International, said Hasanli’s arrest “fits into a pattern of critics being arrested by the authorities to stifle their dissent”.
She said Hasanli “has bravely exposed allegations of high-level corruption in Azerbaijan and covered critical issues of public interest” and that he has in the past “faced repeated harassment from the government”.
Signs of dissent are often met with a tough government response in Azerbaijan, an energy-rich nation long ruled by the Aliyev dynasty.
In July, Azerbaijan arrested high-profile political economist and civil activist Gubad Ibadoghlu on charges of various financial crimes, which he has denied.
He has said his prosecution was retaliation for exposing high-level corruption in Azerbaijan.
Amnesty International has said Ibadoghlu has significant health issues, and his life is in danger “due to unsafe prison conditions and denial of adequate healthcare”.
The government of Aliyev, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 2003 after succeeding from his father Heydar, has long faced international criticism over the country’s poor democratic record.