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Magazine editor faces libel suit; journalist seeks asylum for fear of harassment

(IRFS/IFEX) - On 17 October 2007, in the press center of the Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety (IRFS), "Korrupsiya va Jamiyyet" Magazine Chief Editor Mammad Ahmedoglu conducted a press conference on the pressure his publication is facing as well as pending lawsuits. Ahmedoglu said that ethnically Nigerian Great Britain citizen Adeola Agbabiaka filed a lawsuit on 19 September in the Yasamal District Court over the article "Judge's Oath and Appetite", published in the 9th edition of the magazine. The lawsuit was accepted for consideration the same day it was submitted. The plaintiff is seeking the institution of a 300,000 AZN fine (approx. US$353,000) against the publication and the publication of a refutation, and the institution of a criminal case, due to the alleged violation of article 147.2 (libellous accusation about serious or particularly serious crimes) and 148 (insult) of the Republic of Azerbaijan's Criminal Code.

Ahmedoglu emphasized that the article run in his magazine was written on the basis of official documents and material published in "Zerkalo", "Olaylar", "Baki Kahbar", "Khalg Jabhesi", and other newspapers. The same information was also disseminated by news agencies APA, Olaylar, Turan and Novosti Azerbayjan. Among the official documents is a 3 July decision from the Sabail Region Police Department Investigation Department Chief. In this document is outright stated that "Murphy Shipping and Commercial Service Ltd." Director, ethnically Nigerian citizen of Great Britain Adeola Agbabiaka committed fraud. As a result of this, a criminal case under article 178 (fraud) of the criminal code was instituted.

According to Ahmedoglu, the above-mentioned company is completely fraudulent. In a lawsuit that "Murphy Shipping and Commercial Service Ltd." filed in the past against the Justice Ministry, it claimed that it had participated in several oil projects in Azerbaijan, including the Baku-Tbilisi-Jayhun project, and had 147 employees. However Ahmedoglu sent an information request to the Social Defense Fund, and received a response that only eight employees were on record for this company - not 147.

At the end of the press conference, the chief editor reminded everyone that on 18 October, at 11:30 a.m. (local time), in the Yasamal District Court, under the chairmanship of Judge Khagani Tagiyev, the preliminary hearing on Agbabiaka's lawsuit will take place. Ahmedoglu is planning to introduce 40 documents (consisting of over 320 pages) that he believes will expose the plaintiff claims as false.

Another journalist considering seeking asylum

"If my safety and the safety of my brothers is not guaranteed I will appeal to the embassies of foreign countries for asylum," "Yeni Musavat" Newspaper Nakhchivan correspondent Hakim Eldsotu Mehdiyev said during a press conference on 17 October, in the office of the IRFS. Mehdiyev noted that he will appeal to President Ilham Aliyev, Heydar Aliyev Fund Director Mehriban Aliyev, and Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic Supreme Council Chairman Vasif Talibov, for them to ensure both his safety, and the safety of those close to him. In the appeal it will note that the journalist and his brothers' only source of income, a teahouse and small market, must be restored. Mehdiyev said he is also considering appealing to the ombudsman.

Mehdiyev called for the government to fulfil its obligations in the area of freedom of expression and for the law enforcement officers who subjected him to torture to be punished. He emphasized that only after this occurs, will it be possible for sources of free expression to live without fear.

During the press conference, Mehdiyev spoke about the violence he was subjected to, the day before he was arrested, and while in prison. According to him, he was freed because of the United States embassy political affairs officer Rebecca Naslund's trip to Nakhchivan. In light of this, Mehdiyev thanked the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Anne Derse and Rebecca Naslund, as well as all journalism organizations that expressed an interest in his case.

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