Date of arrest – 12 Oct. 2015
Charges (Article of the Criminal Code) –
234.4.3 — Narcotics
(Illegal purchase or storage with intent to sell, manufacturing, processing, transportation, transfer or selling of narcotics or psychotropic substances, when committed in large amount).
Penal facility – Prison No.6
Case summary – Tofig Hasanli was one of the critics of the government and its policy. He expressed his criticism in satirical poets and posted them on his YouTube channel before spreading them through social networking sites. His poem collection Heyddrnamd (Heydarname) and other satirical poems made him a target of criminal prosecution. In his interview to RFE/RL Azerbaijan, he said that he was threatened because of his poems and that his arrest was real.
Hasanli first appeared in Qulp (“Qulp” is Azerbaijani for “handle” – in a satire context means a “mock”), a satirical program aired on ANS TV station in 2000 with his poems. He became popular for his poem Dirsdk (Elbow). He was then regularly invited to a program authored by critical poet Baba Punhan at the same TV station. Later, he published 7 critical poems from “Heydar’s name” on the last page of Milldtin sdsi (Voice of the Nation) newspaper in 2015. Once the newspaper stopped publishing, he started to cooperate with different press outlets, for example publishing 3 poems from his poem collection ilhamli mgmshr (“Inspiring songs” – a hint to the name of president – Ilham, which means inspiration) in Xural newspaper. For these poems, he was arrested in 2005 under the charge of drug possession, which is widely used against critical voices. He was sentenced to the highest punishment allowable under that charge, i.e. 3 years in jail, though in practice, the highest punishment in such cases would be 2 years at most. In 2007, he was released under an amnesty act.
On 13 October 2015, social media and some newspapers reported that the poet had gone missing. 5 days later, his relatives were able to learn that Hasanli had been arrested and transferred to Baku Pre-trial Detention Facility. The police publicized his arrest a few days after it took place, whereas according to the law, a person’s arrest must be promptly reported to his close relatives and he must be allowed to hire a lawyer of his choosing.
Hasanli was arrested in a store where he was working as a seller. When he was about to close the store, a person, who was known to be a drug user, entered the store. As Hasanli had him leave the store and locked it and left, police officers stopped him and made him return. The police claimed to have found drugs on the cash desk in the store. However, it is not convincing that drugs could be openly stored on a cash desk.
The 45-year-old poet lived in Lankaran together with his aged mother Zarifa Jalalova. Following Hasanli’s arrest, some video appeals of his mother went online. In these videos, she says that her son was arrested illegally for his poems and that he is being targeted for speaking the truth. She called on the local community to help the poet.
Sentence – The Court of Grave Crimes sentenced Hasanli on 22 August 2016 to 6 years of imprisonment. Appeal Court of Sirvan (presiding judge Alasgar Novruzov) kept abovementioned decision unchanged on 22 December 2016.