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Journalist given six-year prison sentence on spurious charges, says IRFS

(IRFS/IFEX) - IRFS condemns Azerbaijan's government for the decision adopted 21 January 2008 against "Bizim Yol" newspaper correspondent Mushfig Huseynov. In the Grave Crimes Court, Judge Jamal Ramazanov sentenced Huseynov to six years of imprisonment on the basis of Article 311 of the Criminal Code (accepting a bribe). Huseynov is also forbidden from working as a journalist for two additional years after he is released from prison.

IRFS is convinced that the verdict adopted is unfair and responds to political pressure. During the trial, none of the petitions put forth by the defense were fulfilled, and numerous procedural violations and falsifications on the part of the prosecution were exposed. To all appearances, the charges against Huseynov are spurious. IRFS believes that Huseynov is the victim of political persecution, as part of a campaign carried out by the government to damage the reputation of journalists in the eyes of the local and international community.

Huseynov was arrested and put into pre-trial detention just before Azerbaijan was to observe National Press Day, on 22 July 2007. Within the framework of this holiday, high-ranking officials claimed that all imprisoned journalists would be pardoned. However, no pardon decree was given on that day. The presidential office announced that President Ilham Aliyev was away on vacation, and that he would most likely sign a decree of pardon upon his return. Instead, on 24 July, Huseynov was arrested. One day after his arrest, the president returned from his vacation and signed no pardon decree. Several days after Huseynov was arrested, his right to presumption of innocence was blatantly violated; he was declared a criminal on national television, and all television channels began a large-scale campaign of negative propaganda against the independent and oppositional press.

Based on observations made throughout the investigation and trial for Huseynov, IRFS believes that none of Huseynov's acts were criminal, and, moreover, that it is completely unfounded to prosecute the journalist under article 311, as he is not an "official."

According to lawyer Isakhan Ashurov, who is handling some aspects of Huseynov's case, a complaint against the court decision to sentence Huseynov to pre-trial detention has been sent to the European Court of Human Rights. On 26 July 2007, the Nasimi District Court adopted a verdict to imprison Huseynov to three months of pre-trial detention. On 3 August, an appellate court upheld the decision. After the term of pre-trial detention finished, on 19 October, the Nasimi District Court adopted a new decision to extend Huseynov's pre-trial detention by another three months, and on 31 October an appellate court also upheld this decision.

Azerbaijan is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world, ranked 156th according to Transparency International. Until the end of December 2007, Azerbaijan was ranked fifth in the world for the number of journalists imprisoned, behind only China, Cuba, Eritrea and Iran. The decree of pardon that was given at the end of the year, and which resulted in the release of five imprisoned journalists, was intended simply to mislead the local and international community, but has in fact proved that the government of Azerbaijan has no intention of completely providing freedom of expression.

IRFS believes that this verdict against Huseynov proves that the government will continue its repression of freedom of speech. IRFS fears that other journalists whose cases will soon be considered in the courts could also be imprisoned.

IRFS calls for Azerbaijan's government to put an end to the persecution of journalists and to immediately release Mushfig Huseynov, as well as Eynulla Fatullayev, Sakit Zahidov and Ganimat Zahid.

IRFS also appeals to the international community to put pressure on Azerbaijan's government and to demand that the government fulfill its international obligations in the areas of freedom of expression and human rights.

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