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Azerbaijan22 August 2006

Interior minister withdraws suit against journalist

A judge today dismissed a libel suit against editor Shahin Agabeyli, of the weekly Milli Yol, after interior minister Ramil Usubov withdrew his complaint against the journalist, who apologised on 17 August for saying the minister was involved in crimes committed by police Col. Haji Mamedov. Agabeyli repeated his apology in writing and ended his hunger-strike. The case was closed by Nasimi regional judge Khila Khalilov.

The minister told members of the national press council and editors of pro and anti-government newspapers on 19 August that the media should work with the police to help protect the public and said his ministry needed the press to expose drug trafficking, organised crime and threats to law and order. “I’m always ready to forgive journalists when they publish retractions and apologise,” he said.

14 August 2006

Newspaper editor begins hunger strike in protest against one-year prison sentence

Milli Yol editor Shahin Agabeyli has begun a hunger strike in protest against the one-year prison sentence he recently received for allegedly blackmailing and insulting former parliamentary speaker Arif Ragimzade.

Meanwhile, a hearing scheduled for today in which interior minister Ramil Usubov was to have been questioned about his libel action against Agabeyli has been postponed until 17 August. Usubov claims he was libelled by an article accusing him of being involved in murders allegedly committed by a former senior police officer, Col. Hali Mamedov, and of planning to flee the country.

Agabeyli’s lawyer requested a one-week postponement in order to be able to meet with his client in prison and to familiarise himself with the case.

10.08.06 - Journalist sentenced to a year in prison

Reporters Without Border called for the immediate release of editor Shahin Agabeyli, of the newspaper Milli Yol, who was sentenced today to a year in jail for supposedly “insulting” and “blackmailing” former parliament spokesman Arif Ramhimzadeh in articles he wrote.

“This is a harsh and disproportionate sentence,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “Without judging the details of the case, we cannot accept that any journalist be sent to prison for what he has written. We urge that the sentence be cancelled.”

Agabeyli was arrested yesterday and held at Bayil prison for failing to respond to various summonses of the Nasimi district court and appeared before it today on four charges.

He was was first convicted of resisting arrest the previous day and cautioned by Judge Hilal Hilalov. Another judge, Gulnara Tagizadeh, then found him guilty of writing that the Khatai town council was corrupt and ordered the paper to pay the council €600 in damages.

He was then accused of insulting the former parliament spokesman, who complained of articles which appeared in 2005 that he said damaged his integrity and honour by accusing him of rigging a parliamentary election and bribing voters, thus invalidating his election to parliament in a district where Agabeyli was also a candidate. The editor was sentenced to six months in prison for “blackmail” and six months for “insults.”

In the fourth case, interior minister Ramil Usubov sued Agabeyli for libelling him by implicating him in crimes perpetrated by former police Col. Hali Mamedov and accusing him of wanting to flee the country. The judge set the next hearing for 14 August. The editor’s colleagues have formed a suport committee.

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