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Azerbaijan24 November 2006

Imprisoned journalist joins independent media hunger-strikers

Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its support for a two-week-old hunger strike by a group of journalists and press freedom activists after imprisoned journalist Sakit Zahidov, who received a three-year sentence last month, announced yesterday he was joining the protest against government threats to the independent media.

“The hunger strike is drastic method of protest that shows how difficult the situation has become for Azerbaijan’s independent media,” the press freedom organisation said. “We are worried about the state of health of several of the hunger strikers, including Sakit Zahidov’s brother Ganimat, the editor of the opposition daily Azadlig, who was adamant in his refusal when asked to stop by the Union of Journalists.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “We extend out support to the hunger strikers and the independent media, and we call on the Azeri government to put an end to the harassment that forced this protest on them.”

The hunger strikers include representatives of the newspapers Azadlig, Milli Yol, Yeni Musavat, Bizin Yol, Novoye Vremya and 24 Saat, the magazine Ganun and the news agency Turan. Protests by journalists and opponents of President Ilham Aliev have swelled in recent weeks after a series of press freedom violations.

The hunger strike was prompted by a government decision to evict Azadlig (which is the leading opposition newspaper), the independent television station ANS TV and Turan from their premises. The protesters say they are fighting for “Elmar Husseynov’s dream of liberty and democracy.” The editor of the opposition weekly Monitor, Husseynov was gunned down in Baku on 2 March 2005.

Arrested on 23 June, writer and journalist Sakit Zahidov was sentenced on 4 October, at the end of a chaotic trial, to three years in prison for “possession of drugs for personal consumption.” Zahidov has always insisted that the police planted the heroin they claimed to have found in his clothes. A court is due to begin hearing his appeal on 1 December.




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