Azerbaijan has arrested and charged prominent newspaper correspondent Rauf Mirkadirov, a political analyst critical of its policies, with alleged espionage for Armenia.
On April 19, Turkish police yanked Mirkadirov, an Ankara-based journalist for Azerbaijan's Russian-language Zerkalo (Mirror) daily, off a bus as he was preparing to return to Azerbaijan via neighbouring Georgia. Mirkadirov's press accreditation earlier had been canceled.*
Zerkalo wrote that it had initially assumed that a "misunderstanding" or "technical" reasons had caused the accreditation-snag; issues which, "with fraternal Turkey," would soon be sorted out, it said.
That notion soon went out the window.
Word of Mirkadirov's deportation from Turkey became public this weekend, but Azerbaijan's interior ministry and border-control officials initially denied any knowledge about his deportation, Zerkalo reported.
On April 21, the prosecutor's office stated briefly that he had been charged with treason; specifically, with espionage, under аrticle 274 of Azerbaijan's criminal code.
Elaborating at a briefing later that day, Mirkadirov's lawyer, Fuad Agayev, told reporters that prosecutors claim Mirkadirov, who has visited Yerevan in the past for various conferences, allegedly passed on information describing Azerbaijan's military situation and "strategic objects" to Armenian agents.
Armenian journalist Laura Bagdasarian, who ran a joint online publication with Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus, also was mentioned in the charges, Agayev said.
Mirkadirov has refused to give any testimony, Agayev said. He currently is being held in solitary confinement in the Ministry of National Security.
Whether or not Mirkadirov has any such connection could not be established independently.
Claiming government critics are involved in espionage is old hat in
ex-Soviet parts, however. Earlier this year, Azerbaijani prosecutors also trotted out the
notion that investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova allegedly had been involved in espionage for the US.** Amidst an international outcry over the unsubstantiated accusations, pro-government media's coverage of the claims eventually subsided.
*Rauf Mirgadirov has been cited as a source in previous EurasiaNet.org stories. **Khadija Ismayilova has worked as a reporter for EurasiaNet.org.