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Azerbaijan10 April 2003

Journalist harassed by authorities

Reporters Without Borders protested today at official victimisation of Elmar Husseynov, founder and editor of the weekly magazine Monitor, who has twice been convicted of libel in two weeks.

"He and the magazine are being seriously harassed by some officials with the complicity of courts that use the libel laws to intimidate the independent media," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in letters to President Heidar Aliev and justice minister Fikret Mammadov. "We remind you that such methods violate the commitments Azerbaijan made when it became a member of the Council of Europe. We call on you to put a stop to such unjustified legal action against the independent press."

A court in Yasamal fined Husseynov the equivalent of 4,500 times the national minimum wage (a total of about 4,600 euros) on 4 April under articles 147.2 and 148 of the criminal code for comparing people from the autonomous Azerbaijani republic of Nakhichevan to Sicilians in an article headed "The Godfather" that appeared in the second issue of the magazine this year.

Hasan Zeynalov, Nakhichevan’s representative in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, had sued Husseynov on their behalf for libel and harming their reputation and dignity. He had earlier sued him in a civil court, which ordered the editor on 25 February to pay damages of 19,000 euros and publish an apology.

Huseynov said the convictions are based on false premises and that the cases were brought because of Monitor’s criticism of President Aliev’s foreign and domestic policies. He said he would appeal against the verdict and take the Yasamal verdict to the European Court of Human Rights.

Husseynov and one of the magazine’s journalists, Eynulla Fatullayev, were fined 50 million manats (10,000 euros) on 29 July last year and ordered to publish an apology for an article on 6 April that year criticising the army and objected to by defence minister Safar Abiyev. All the country’s state and privately-owned printing works had refused to print the offending issue, which was the paper’s first appearance in four years.

Husseynov was sentenced in 2001 to six months in prison for libelling Baku mayor Hajibala Abutalibov.

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