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Azerbaijan20 July 2007

Seven journalists to spend National Press Day in prison

As Azerbaijan prepares to marks National Press Day on 22 July 2007, Reporters Without Borders today condemned its repeated violations of the opposition media’s rights, especially the use of jail terms to silence journalists, of whom a total of seven are currently in prison.

“Four criminal code articles with provision for long sentences are above all being used to imprison journalists - articles 147 and 148 on ‘defaming’ and ‘insulting’ the Azerbaijani people, article 282 on ‘inciting racial, national and religious hatred,’ and article 241 (1) on terrorism,” the press freedom organisation said.

“These laws must be amended quickly because they represent serious violations of free speech and the international conventions to which Azerbaijan is party,” Reporters Without Borders added. “Prison sentences are being handed down at an appalling rate. The authorities turn a deaf ear to our repeated appeals and refuse to stop prosecuting the opposition media.”

Sakit Zahidov, a writer and journalist with the newspaper Azadlig, was arrested on 23 June 2006 and, after 10 grammes of heroin were allegedly found in one of his pockets, he was charged with “possession of a large amount of drugs with the intention of reselling it.” Zahidov has always maintained the police planted the heroin. No evidence to support the charges was produced at his trial. Nonetheless, he was sentenced to three years in prison on 4 October 2007.

Faramaz Allahverdiyev of the daily Nota Bene was sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of libel on 30 January of this year because of a report about interior minister Ramil Usubov’s lack of political loyalty to former President Heydar Aliev.

Eynulla Fatullayev, the editor of the dailies Gundelik Azerbaijan and Realny Azerbaijan, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on 20 April for “defaming” and “insulting” the Azerbaijani people. The sentence was confirmed on appeal and now new charges of “terrorism” have been brought against him.

Two journalists with the daily Mukhalifat, Yashar Agazadeh and Rovshan Kabirli, were sentenced to two and a half years in prison on 20 May for libelling Djalal Aliev, the president’s uncle, in a report implicating him in probable corruption.

On 6 July, a Baku appeal court upheld the prison sentences imposed on 4 May on Samir Sadagatoglu, the editor of the weekly Sanat, and Rafik Tagi, one of his journalists, for an article critical of Islam entitled “Europe and Us” that was published on 6 November 2006. Sadagatoglu was sentenced to four years in prison, and Tagi to three years.

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