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Azerbaijan4 October 2006

Opposition journalist’s three-year prison sentence condemned as politically motivated

The three-year prison sentence passed by a Baku court today on opposition journalist Sakit Zahidov of the daily Azadlig for alleged drug possession was clearly “politically motivated,” Reporters Without Borders said, calling for his immediate release.

At no time since the trial began on 29 August was evidence produced in court to support his alleged “possession of drugs for the purpose of personal consumption,” the charge on which he was finally convicted. The original charge of “purchase of a large amount of drugs for the purpose of resale” was amended after the start of the trial.

“This verdict shows the political nature of the prosecution brought against Zahidov,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It does not reflect the prosecution’s inability to establish that a drug was used or even what kind of drug was allegedly involved. It also takes no account of the insistence by defence witnesses that Zahidov was not a drug user.”

A committee set up to defend Zahidov helped expose many irregularities in the investigation, beginning with contradictory statements by the police, who initially claimed that a test had shown traces of drugs in his blood. It was established in court on 21 September that the only test carried out on Zahidov was a urine one, and that the result was negative.

Zahidov has always denied consuming or selling drugs and insists that the 10 grammes of heroin which police claim to have found on him at the time of his arrest on 23 June was in fact planted in his personal effects by the police.

Held ever since his arrest, Zahidov went on hunger strike from 25 July to 5 August in protest against his imprisonment. He lost of lot of weight and his health has deteriorated.

He told the court yesterday that his arrest had not succeeded in preventing him from writing and that it would continue to denounce governmental corruption from prison. He also called on Azerbaijanis to wage “a peaceful struggle against President Ilham Aliev’s corrupt government.”

Zahidov’s lawyer said he would appeal against the baseless conviction and disproportionate sentence, citing particularly the fact that he is the father of five children and that this is his first conviction.

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