BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — A journalist in Azerbaijan best known for creating a wildly popular Internet video that became a cult favorite in Russia has been arrested on drug possession charges, police said Friday.
Police said that Hilal Mammadov was found with 5 grams of heroin and that another 30 grams of heroin were found at his apartment after a search.
Mammadov's lawyer, Anar Qasimli, said the charges against his client were without basis, and the reporter's relatives insist he is the victim of a police set-up. Mammadov will be kept in custody for three months while the probe is ongoing, Qasimli said.
If found guilty, Mammadov faces a prison sentence of up to 12 years.
Journalists are frequently jailed in the authoritarian former Soviet nation on charges that rights activists say are often fabricated.
Interior Ministry spokesman Ehsan Zahidov denied suggestions that Mammadov was arrested because of his professional duties.
Mammadov created a wedding video showing dueling singers improvising barbs ending with "Who do you think you are? Get lost." The video was intended to illustrate local customs, but the phrase became popular in its own right and was adopted by Russia's opposition movement in reference to President Vladimir Putin.
Mammadov is a member of Azerbaijan's Talysh ethnic minority, which resides along the country's border with Iran, and edits a local newspaper, Talysh Voice.
Democracy activist Leila Yunus has been reported as saying she believes Mammadov may have been targeted because he has become too influential in the Talysh community for the government's liking.
Mammadov has in the past criticized authorities for allegedly repressing minority populations in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan last month hosted the high-profile Eurovision Song Contest, leading some rights workers to hope that political freedoms might receive a boost as the country was subjected to the glare of international attention.
But Amnesty International has since reported a rise in the police harassment of activists who took part in anti-government protests during the Eurovision contest.