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Azerbaijan19 December 2008

European court condemns Azerbaijan for imposing jail sentences on two journalists

Reporters Without Borders welcomes yesterday’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Azerbaijan violated two journalists’ freedom of expression by sentencing them to imprisonment on defamation charges. The court ordered payment of 1,000 euros in damages.

“We approve of the court’s decision to condemn judicial procedures that are incompatible with the principles that Azerbaijan undertook to respect when it joined the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, and we hope it will be regarded as a landmark ruling,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It should prompt the authorities to release the four journalists still held in Azerbaijan.”

The two journalists concerned by yesterday’s ruling were Rovshan Kebirli, the editor of the newspaper Mukhalifat, and Yashar Agazade, a reporter with the opposition newspaper Azadlig, who were sentenced in 2003 to five months in prison on charges of defaming and insulting the president’s brother, Jalal Aliev, by linking him to a “cereal mafia.”

Although pardoned, they filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights accusing the government of violating article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention, on free expression.

The court ruled that there were grounds for a prosecution as the allegations made by the journalists lacked a sufficiently solid factual basis, but sentencing them to jail terms was excessive.

The four journalists still imprisoned in Azerbaijan are brothers Sakit Zahidov and Ganimat Zahidov of Azadlig, Eynulla Fatullayev, the editor of Realny Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaijan, and Mushfig Husseynov of Bizim Yol.

Azerbaijan was ranked 150th out of 173 countries in the 2008 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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