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PRESIDENT IGNORES PLEAS TO PARDON JOURNALISTS

President Ilham Aliyev did not pardon the seven journalists jailed in Azerbaijan as was anticipated on National Press Day (22 July).

Despite numerous protests by human rights groups and appeals to the State Pardon Commission sent by the family members of the journalists, the Press Council, the Ombudsman and the Working Group of Political Prisoners, the seven imprisoned journalists have not been released.

They are: Sakit Zahidov, Eynulla Fatullayev, Rafig Tagi, Samir Sadagetoglu, Faramez Allahverdiyev (Novruzoglu), Rovshan Kebirli and Yashar Agazadeh.

"The imprisonment of these seven journalists has severely damaged Azerbaijan's reputation as the country prepares for next year's presidential elections," says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

According to a senior government official, President Aliyev is away on vacation and no decision would be made about pardons until his return. He also noted that the journalists themselves did not request pardons and therefore had not yet admitted their "guilt".

One jailed journalist went on hunger strike and sewed his mouth shut in protest over his imprisonment. Faramez Allahverdiyev of the weekly newspaper "Nota Bene" was convicted for defamation on 30 January and sentenced to two and a half years in prison for articles he wrote on corruption in the Interior Ministry. According to the Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Allahverdiyev is also trying to reject his citizenship and wants asylum in Israel.

A "solidarity" fundraising marathon organised by IRFS to benefit the families of the jailed journalists raised US$2,265.

On a 16-17 July visit to Azerbaijan to campaign for the release of the journalists, Human Rights Watch's executive director, Kenneth Roth, recommended a moratorium on any further criminal prosecution of journalists. "President Aliyev today has unprecedented political strength and popularity," Roth said. "But strong governments do not imprison journalists. Strong governments do not use the criminal law to prevent people from hearing what journalists have to say."

IRFS is asking members of the local and international community to send appeals to Aliyev calling for the journalists' release. Fax your appeal to: +994 12 492 0625, or email: [email protected] or [email protected]

According to CPJ, Azerbaijan is the region's leading jailer of journalists and one of the top 10 backsliders on press freedom worldwide, and President Aliyev made RSF's 2007 list of "press freedom predators".

Visit these links:
- For details of the seven journalists, including biographies, email IRFS: [email protected]
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/ynrpyd
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=23003
- Human Rights Watch on Azerbaijan: http://tinyurl.com/2gfuz9
- CPJ "Backsliders": http://www.cpj.org/backsliders/index.html
- RSF "The Predators of Press Freedom": http://tinyurl.com/2deklk
(24 July 2007)

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