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Azerbaijan28 January 2008

Two newspaper journalists sentenced to forced labour for libelling senior official

Reporters Without Borders condemns the forced labour sentences that a Baku court has passed on Avaz Zeynalli, the editor of the independent weekly Khural, and Vugar Gurdganli, one of his journalists, in two separate cases arising from articles published last year about corruption in government circles.

In verdicts handed down on 18 and 21 January, Zeynalli was sentenced to two years and a year and a half of forced labour. Gurdganli was sentenced to a year and a half of forced labour. Zeynalli must also pay the state 20 per cent of his salary for two years, while Gurdganli must pay the state 20 per cent of his salary for a year and a half.

“Press offences must be quickly decriminalized in Azerbaijan,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The list of prosecutions of news media seems endless. “The disproportionate sentences imposed on journalists has a deplorable effect on press freedom and encourages self-censorship. But the government turns a deaf ear and continues to claim that journalists who write about corruption are criminals.”

Zeynalli and Gurdganli were found guilty of libelling Elmar Valiyev, the head of the Yevlakh region (260 km west of Baku), in articles about the relationship between him and President Ilham Aliev published in October and November headlined “Power belongs to Valiyev and not Aliev” and “Elmar Valiyev deceives Ilham Aliev.”

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