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Ukraine deports blogger to Azerbaijan where he faces prison, torture (UPDATED)

Ukraine deports blogger to Azerbaijan where he faces prison, torture (UPDATED)

Azerbaijani video blogger Elving Isayev (Photo from personal Facebook page)
on social media
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Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with new information. 

Ukraine has reportedly deported an Azerbaijani blogger to Baku, where he faces prison and torture for criticizing the government.

The State Migration Service of Azerbaijan announced on Dec. 14 that Elvin Isayev had been deported from Ukraine on Dec. 12 for “violating immigration laws.” He was wanted by the Azerbaijani authorities and is reportedly being held in a detention center in Baku now.

Previously, the European Court of Human Rights blocked Isayev’s extradition from Russia to Azerbaijan.

A spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Migration Service could not confirm the report.

Isayev’s family and friends believe he was kidnapped at the behest of the Azerbaijani authorities.

On the day the blogger disappeared in Kyiv, Dec. 12, Azerbaijani Prime Minister Ali Asadov was visiting the Ukrainian capital for an international summit.

News of Isayev’s deportation came two days before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled to Baku for an official visit on Dec. 16-17 to meet with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev.

Qurban Mammadov, an Azerbaijani emigre and founder of the opposition YouTube channel AzerFreedom TV, says Isayev has been formally charged with “defamation and disparagement of the president of Azerbaijan.”

This crime is punishable by a prison term of two to five years, according to the country’s criminal code.

“When we say deportation we mean a court’s decision. He was just kidnapped. As a lawyer, I am shocked how the Ukrainian authorities could let it happen,” Mammadov told the Kyiv Post. “They kidnapped him not for deprivation of his freedom, but with an aim of torture, humiliation and his physical annihilation.”

Isayev has 20,900 subscribers on his YouTube channel. In addition, he appeared on the AzerFreedom channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers.

Mammadov says Isayev’s videos were creative and his speeches were straightforward as he lashed out at Azerbaijani elites. He ridiculed the corruption and nepotism of the ruling family, the Aliyevs, and criticized the poor healthcare, low pensions and unemployment that force many citizens to go abroad for work. He also blasted violations of Azerbaijani citizens’ right to free speech and called on the government to release political prisoners.

In one video, filmed at a zoo, he says that he would open a zoo for public officials who now treat the people like animals. Pointing at a cage, he names an official or lawmaker who would sit there.

In another video, filmed at a shoe store, he chooses rubber boots that he would buy for Azerbaijani elites, instead of the expensive clothing and shoes that they buy while regular citizens live in poverty.

“I am embarrassed. Azerbaijan is a country rich in resources, but people are leaving it en masse,” Isayev said in a video posted on Sept. 20. “I don’t insult the family of the president. I criticize the powers that be. It’s not my fault that one family rules the country. If I criticize the vice president, it’s not my fault that the vice president is the wife of the president.”

President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father, and his family monopolize not only power, but also control all major sectors of the economy in the oil-rich country. The authoritarian clan has been implicated in massive corruption schemes and rigging elections, while generously spending on western PR firms to whitewash their country’s reputation in the West. Any criticism has been brutally stifled through arrests and prosecution. Journalists and bloggers have specifically been targeted.

Several Azerbaijani dissidents were arrested or abducted in former Soviet countries.

“After the total capture of the media environment inside the country, the government of Ilham Aliyev has turned its attention to silencing critics in exile,” wrote the non-profit Index of Censorship in its 2019 report on the state of media freedom in Azerbaijan.

The Council of Europe’s torture prevention body said in its 2018 report that torture was systemic in Azerbaijan’s law enforcement agencies, and Human Rights Watch said that detainees are often denied access to lawyers.


Born in Azerbaijan, Isayev lived in Russia for over two decades. In 2001, he received Russian citizenship. He married a Russian woman and ran a retail business.

In August 2019, Azerbaijani authorities opened a criminal case against Isayev and a Baku court ordered his arrest. He was placed on a wanted list.

Soon after, Isayev was arrested in St. Petersburg, where he had lived for years, and had his Russian passport revoked by a court. The Russian authorities, however, could not send him to Azerbaijan after the European Court for Human Rights blocked his extradition based on an interim measure called “Rule 39.”

Unable to forcibly deport Isayev, the Russian authorities ordered him to leave the country, said his cousin Mirjalil Gasanov.

The two men decided to go to Ukraine. They drove to the city of Gomel in Belarus, and from there took a bus to Kyiv. They arrived on Sept. 28.

Isayev’s Azerbaijani passport allowed him to stay in Ukraine without a visa for 90 days, until Dec. 27.

Gasanov stayed with his cousin in Kyiv for 10 days and returned to St. Petersburg. He says Isayev was collecting documents to apply for asylum in Europe.

On Dec. 12, Gasanov learned that his cousin had disappeared. He came to Kyiv to look for him. Then, he says he received a call from an unknown number.

“The man told me that Elvin was detained by the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) and that we should ask for more information at Volodymyrska, 33. This is the address of the SBU headquarters. We went there but have not received any response,” Gasanov said.

“We want the Ukrainian authorities to tell us what happened.”

Azerbaijani journalist-in-exile Fikret Huseynli believes the blogger could have been lured into a trap.

“Isayev contacted me on Dec. 3 seeking help and advice. I told him to stay in, not to use metro, order food online. He didn’t plan to stay in Ukraine and wanted to go to Europe and seek asylum there,” Huseynli told the Kyiv Post over the phone.

Despite having a Dutch passport, Huseynli was arrested in Ukraine in 2018 and faced extradition to his native country of Azerbaijan, but won his case and returned to the Netherlands.

“He told me some acquaintance of his promised to help him get a visa to Slovakia. But he was lied to. Azerbaijani citizens can’t get Schengen visas (in Ukraine) without residence in Ukraine.”

He added that it was risky for Isayev to come to Ukraine because of a video in which he expressed support for the Russian-backed militants who control parts of the country’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. In the video, Isayev shows humanitarian aid that is being sent to the two oblasts from the Azerbaijani diaspora. “Hold on. Russia is with you. We are praying for you,” Isayev says in the video.


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