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Azerbaijan3 July 2006

Appeal court confirms three-month custody order against Zahidov

The appeal court in Baku on 1st July 2006, upheld a three-month custodial order imposed by a lower court against journalist Sakit Mirza Zahidov. His lawyer, Elchin Gambarov, said that neither he nor his client had been able to attend the hearing.

He added that Zahidov was facing a charge under Article 234.4.3 of the criminal code for “purchase of a large quantity of a drug with the aim of reselling it”. Police found 10 grams of heroin on him, although Zahidov accuses the security forces of having planted it in his pocket while he was being questioned. His lawyer said he could face up to 12 years in prison.

26 june 2006

Authorities asked to explain opposition journalist’s arrest on drug charge

Reporters Without Borders today called on the Azerbaijani authorities to shed light on the way Sakit Mirza Zahidov, a journalist with the opposition daily Azadlig, was arrested by interior ministry anti-narcotics agents on the evening of 23 June and was placed in detention for three months the next day by the Nasimi regional court on a drug possession charge.

“We are very surprised by the arrest of Sakit Zahidov, an opposition journalist who has been very critical of President Ilham Aliev and his government, and we call on the interior ministry to clarify the circumstances of his detention and to prove that the heroin the police claim to have found on him really was his,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“Azerbaijan’s opposition journalists are often the victims of violence or arbitrary arrests,” the press freedom organisation continued. “Until now, the authorities have shown no sign of any real will to put a stop to the tension and it cannot be ruled out that this arrest is linked to a policy of cracking down on dissident journalists.”

The police claim Zahidov was found in possession of 10 grammes of heroine, a court-appointed lawyer told his brother, Azadlig editor Ganimat Zahidov. But Ganimat told Reporters Without Borders his brother denies this, and accuses the police of planting the heroin on him. Other sources confirm he does not take drugs. The interior ministry and local police refuse to make an comment and no date has been set for his trial, in which he faces three to seven years in prison.

The staff of Azadlig said they have decided to set up a committee to support Zahidov and campaign for his release. Representatives of journalistic and humanitarian organisations will be invited to take part. A delegation tried to visit him on 24 June at the detention centre where he is being held, but was it turned away.

Zahidov’s arrest has been condemned as politically-motivated by other opposition journalists such as Rauf Arifoglu, the editor of the daily Yeni Musavat, who spend a year and a half in a Baku prison.

Zahidov write satirical columns in which he lambasts the government, parliamentarians and religious leaders. His brother, Azadlig’s editor, was kidnapped and beaten on 25 February 2005 by unidentified assailants who told him to stop publishing articles that criticised President Aliev or mentioned prison mutinies.

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