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Azerbaijan26 February 2004

Two journalists given two-year suspended prison sentences

Two journalists have been sentenced to two-year suspended prison sentences for defamation over an article claiming that the National Taekwondo Federation helped security forces break up demonstrations in Baku contesting 15 October presidential elections.

The Baku court on 25 February also ordered Rovshan Kebirli, editor of the daily Mukhalifat and Yusif Gambar, who wrote the 18 October 2003 article, to hand over 15% of their salary to the state for two years.

"Yet again, the authorities in Azerbaijan have shown their contempt for press freedom and for their commitments to the Council of Europe" said Reporters Without Borders, adding, "Journalists should never be put at risk of prison simply for doing their job".

The international press freedom organisation called on the government and on Ali Hasanov, presidential aide responsible for the news media, to do everything possible to see that Articles 147.2 and 148, providing for prison terms for defamation and insult were removed from the criminal code.

The vice-president of the Taekwando federation, Fizuli Muzayev, had also called for the newspaper to be closed, but did not get his way. The two journalists said they are convinced the sentence was politically motivated and have announced their intention to appeal.

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