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Prosecutor requests five-year sentence for detained editor of leading opposition newspaper

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is shocked to learn that a prosecutor has called for a five-year jail sentence for Ganimat Zahidov, the editor of one of the leading opposition dailies, "Azadlig", on a charge of "aggravated hooliganism" under article 127.2.3 of the criminal code. Zahidov's trial began in Baku on 8 January 2008.

"We do not understand the severity of the requested sentence, or that a two-year sentence has also been requested for Zahidov's main accuser," the press freedom organisation said. "All this reinforces our conviction that Zahidov is paying dearly for his 'Azadlig' articles critical of the government and that the authorities are manipulating a suspicious incident."

Reporters Without Borders added: "We have the impression that this case is driven more by a desire for revenge than justice. Zahidov's younger brother Sakit, who works for the same newspaper, was sentenced in October 2006 to three years in prison for drug possession at the end of a trial in which the prosecution failed to demonstrate that he possessed drugs" (see IFEX alerts of 6 February 2008, 22 October and 3 April 2007, and others).

The suspicious incident that led to Ganimat Zahidov's arrest took place on 7 November 2007. He was going up the steps leading into the building where the Azerbaijan publishing house is located when a young woman on the steps (subsequently identified as Sevgilade Guliyeva, a person with a previous conviction for theft) began to shout and accuse him of insulting her.

At this point, a man subsequently identified as Vusal Hasanov grabbed Zahidov by the jacket and shouted: "Who are you to bother this girl?" Zahidov tried to push him away and the two men began to fight. With the help of bystanders, Hasanov and the young woman extricated themselves and left in a taxi together.

Zahidov told Reporters Without Borders about the incident on the day it happened. He said he regarded it as deliberate provocation in retaliation for his articles accusing President Ilham Aliev's wife of corruption or for articles about highway code violations by the president's relatives.

He was summoned by the police on 10 November 2007 and placed in preventive custody the next day. He has been held ever since.

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