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Freedom of expression organisations call on Azeri president to dismiss criminal libel case against journalist Irada Huseynova and cancel the warrant for her arrest

(IFEX) - The following statement was issued at the 11th General Meeting of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) in Baku, Azerbaijan, 13-18 June 2004, and is endorsed by the signatories below:

To: The President of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Ilham Aliev

CC: Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Mr. Zahid Garalov

Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Mr. Ramil Usubov

Your Excellency,

The participants at the General Meeting of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange, that took place in Baku, Azerbaijan, 13-18 June 2004, call for a thorough investigation of the case of Irada Huseynova, Azeri journalist and employee of the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES).

According to information provided by the CJES, in the summer of 2001 a criminal libel charge was raised against Huseynova. The mayor of the Azeri capital, Baku, sought the closure of the "Bakinskii bul'var" newspaper, as well as criminal charges against its publisher Elmar Huseynov, editor Bela Zakirova and journalist Irada Huseynova. The mayor took these steps in response to an article called "State Rocket", which was published in "Bakinskii bul'var".

While Huseynova was at an OSCE conference in Warsaw, Poland, the court approved the mayor's request to arrest the publisher and to sentence the editor to a six month suspended prison sentence. Huseynova's case was transferred to a separate investigation and an arrest warrant was issued in her name.

Huseynova decided not to return to Azerbaijan and stayed in Moscow. Court representatives regularly visited her home in Baku, threatening her brother. In the summer of 2002, Huseynova's brother was arrested and threatened with a prison sentence for allegedly "hiding an especially dangerous criminal".

On 25 November 2002, representatives of Moscow police visited the CJES office and detained Huseynova. The only document the police showed her was a facsimile copy of a Baku court request that said, "According to our information, the Azerbaijani citizen Huseynova I.A. is located at the address of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. We ask you to detain her. We have a prosecutor's arrest warrant for this."

Huseynova was freed one day later, following protests by lawyers and human rights activists. The protests highlighted the fact that, both in Russian and Azerbaijan legislation, criminal libel charges are considered a private case between two citizens and extradition does not apply to such cases.

Huseynova's Azerbaijani passport expired on 8 June 2004, preventing her from returning to Azerbaijan. According to CJES, Huseynova's case is currently the only ongoing criminal libel case against a journalist in Azerbaijan.

We are asking Your Excellency to

- cancel the warrant for the arrest of Huseynova that was issued by the prosecutor, since libel is a private lawsuit
- assist Huseynova to renew her Azerbaijani passport
- do everything in your power to have a court review and dismiss the criminal libel case against Huseynova

Signatories:

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations
Committee to Protect Journalists
Freedom House
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa
Greek Helsinki Monitor
Independent Journalism Center, Moldova
Index on Censorship
Institute for Mass Information
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad
International Press Institute
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Norwegian PEN
PERIODISTAS
PROBIDAD
Reporters Without Borders
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
World Association of Newspapers
World Press Freedom Committee
Writers in Prison Committee, International PEN

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