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Azerbaijan9 March 2007

Journalists file complaint about their exclusion from ex-minister’s trial

Journalists working for several independent and opposition media who were barred several times from covering the trial of former health minister Ali Insanov filed a complaint on 6 March.

Officials at the Baku Court for Serious Crimes claim that the only reason some journalists were unable to attend the most recent hearings in the trial was a shortage of seats inside the courtroom, but the journalists point out that only the state media were allowed in, and seats were still available.

The journalists who have filed the complaint are asking to be allowed into the courtroom or, in the event of a shortage of seats, for the proceedings to be relayed by video. They say they have been barred from the courtroom to prevent the dissemination of any comments by Insanov about the current government.

Arrested in the run-up to parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2005, Insanov is accused of abuse of authority, corruption and forgery. The police claim that 2.3 million dollars were found in his home at the time of his arrest. His comment during the opening session of the trial on 15 February describing members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party as “crooks” was widely reported.

28 February 2007

Opposition and independent media again barred from former health minister’s trial

The ban on certain news media from attending the trial of former health minister Ali Insanov was repeated yesterday at the third hearing. Journalists from Azadlig, Yeni Musavat, Gundalik Azerbaijan newspapers, Radio Liberty and the news agency Turan were prevented from covering either the morning or the afternoon court session yesterday.

Claiming there were not enough seats, officials at the court for major crimes granted access only to reporters from the pro-government media, as they had done during the second hearing on 22 February. The authorities are trying to hush up the accusations which Insanov has been making against the ruling party and senior government officials.

Press Council president Aflaun Amashev has promised that journalists will not be excluded from subsequent hearings. The council is supposed to help settle disputes between the government and media.

26 February 2007

Independent journalists barred from former minister’s trial

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the exclusion yesterday of many representatives of the independent and opposition press from the second hearing in the trial of former health minister Ali Insanov, although it was open to the public and journalists from several TV stations and pro-governmental media such as 525 Gazet, Iki Shahil, Yeni Azerbaycan and the news agency APA were allowed into the courtroom.

Among the journalists turned away were the correspondents of Azadlig, Yeni Musavat, the news agency Turan, Gundalik paper and other media. All of these media had quoted Insanov’s statement during the opening session, when he described the members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party as “crooks.”

“We condemn this latest case of obstruction of the work of the press by the authorities,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Granting access to journalists on the basis of their support for the government is a flagrant violation of the freedom to inform and be informed.”

The court clerk asked all the journalists present to show him their press cards just before the start of yesterday’s hearing. Five minutes later, he announced the names of those who would be allowed in. The journalists who were excluded in the morning were promised they would be let in for the afternoon session, but this was not the case.

Tarana Kazimova of Turan told Reporters Without Borders that in the afternoon court officials said there were not enough seats although many fewer journalists had turned up. She said she had attended many sensitive trials in the past without every encountering this kind of problem. She added that it would not prevent her or her colleagues from finding out what the former minister said and reporting it.

The next hearing is scheduled for 27 February.

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