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Journalist subjected to further harassment and threats; regional authorities confiscate newspaper following critical reporting

(IRFS/IFEX) - IRFS is extremely concerned by the recent threats against "Yeni Musavat" newspaper's Nakhchivan correspondent, Hakim Eldostu Mehdiyev. Meanwhile, authorities in four regions of Azerbaijan have confiscated all copies of "Bizim Gundem" for four consecutive days.

Mehdiyev is the second journalist to receive threats in the last month. "24 Saat" newspaper's editor-in-chief, Fikret Faramezoglu, also received death threats from a hidden number on his mobile phone on 24 September 2007.

On 16 October 2007, the chief of the National Security Ministry's Shaurur Region branch called Mehdiyev and said that if the journalist backed down from his position on the events that happened to him at the end of September, everything would be ok. The National Security Ministry official also encouraged the journalist to return to Nakhchivan. (Mehdiyev is currently visiting Baku.)

Then, on 17 October, the journalist received another telephone call, this time from an unknown person on a hidden telephone number. The caller said, "Talks with you are through. Protect yourself!" The person added that all of Mehdiyev's private information was being reviewed, including information about relatives, places of employment, places of residence and so on. Mehdiyev told IRFS he suspects that the call was the result of a press conference he conducted the previous day.

IRFS calls on Azerbaijan's law enforcement agencies to investigate seriously the threats against Mehdiyev and to ensure his safety. IRFS also believes that Azercell, the mobile telephone service provider to which Mehdiyev subscribes, should provide assistance in the case by revealing the identity of the owners of the telephone number from which the threatening call was made. In this manner, Azercell could play an integral role in putting an end to the long-standing impunity for perpetrators in criminal cases where journalists are victims.

IRFS also calls on international organisations to follow this situation closely and to demand that Azerbaijan's law enforcement agencies conduct an investigation into the threats against Mehdiyev.

IRFS notes that Mehdiyev was beaten and tortured by staff at the Sharur Region branch of the National Security Ministry on 22 September 2007 and, the following day, he was arrested. At the same time, local officials destroyed two businesses, a teahouse and a small store, owned by Mehdiyev's brothers. Upon Mehdiyev's release from prison, he appealed to the press and condemned the persecution against him, namely by government officials in Nakhchivan.

Meanwhile, for the fourth consecutive day in four regions of Azerbaijan (Sabirabad, Ali-Bayramli, Saatli and Barda), all copies of "Bizim Gundem" newspaper were confiscated from newspaper kiosks by representatives of the regional executive administrations, the paper's editor, Razi Abbasbeyli, told IRFS. Abbasbeyli speculated that the newspapers were confiscated in Sabirabad due to critical articles in the newspaper about social conditions in the region and illegal activities of the local officials. The editor also noted that by confiscating all copies of "Bizim Gundem" newspaper, local officials are depriving readers of their right to access information. Abbasbeyli told IRFS that in the near future, he will appeal to relevant authorities regarding this issue.

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