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Fifteen journalists seek political asylum in protest against closure of newspapers

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders today condemned the constant government harassment of opposition media, which has led 15 journalists working for two daily newspapers, the Azerbaijani-language "Gundelik Azerbaijan" and the Russian-language "Realny Azerbaijan", to seek political asylum between 25 and 29 May 2007 after their newspapers were closed the week before. Fearing for his safety, the editor of the newspaper "Nota Bene" has also requested asylum.

"First the offices of 'Gundelik Azerbaijan' and 'Realny Azerbaijan' were shut down for alleged fire safety violations, then on 26 May, the owner of their premises suddenly rescinded their lease, forcing them to vacate immediately," Reporters Without Borders said. "They would have us believe this is just a coincidence. These are the methods of an authoritarian regime."

The press freedom organisation added: "If President Ilham Aliev wants to protect the press, he should help these two daily newspapers find new premises. The 41 employees and contributors to these newspapers are now without any source of income; some of them feel threatened and the country's press is all the poorer."

The 14 "Gundelik Azerbaijan" and "Realny Azerbaijan" journalists submitted their political asylum requests to the US, German, British and Norwegian embassies and the office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). They include "Gundelik Azerbaijan" editor Uzeir Jafarov, who said they were seeking asylum because of prosecution, and because arrests and attacks made it impossible for them to work as journalists.

Jafarov was attacked and beaten on 20 April after giving evidence at the trial of Eynulla Fatullaev, the founder of "Gundelik Azerbaijan" and "Realny Azerbaijan", who received a 30-month prison sentence the same day for "defaming" and "insulting" Azerbaijanis in an article about Armenia.

The satirical website http://www.tinsohbeti.com , whose editor, Habib Muntezir, is based in Germany, has meanwhile become inaccessible again since 21 May because of a hacker attack on the host server of Site5 server. Muntezir is convinced the attack was deliberately targeted. It is not the first time the site has been attacked.

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