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Editor assaulted, detained pending trial for "causing minor bodily harm" and "hooliganism"; distribution of "Khural" newspaper prevented

(IRFS/IFEX) - On 11 November 2007, at the Yasamal District Court, presided by judge Tahir Ismayilov, a hearing on the pre-trial detention of "Azadlig" newspaper's chief editor Genimet Zahid was conducted. Zahid was brought to the court at about 8 p.m. (local time). At the end of the over one-hour long court process, which was closed to everyone except for Zahid's lawyers, Rashid Hajili and Osman Kazimov, Zahid was sentenced to two months pre-trial detention. During the hearing, none of the defence lawyers' petitions was granted. While leaving the court, Zahid told bystanders that his arrest had been ordered by the government and was politically-motivated.

Among the people who gathered outside the court on the evening of 11 November was U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Officer Jonathan Henick. Henick expressed the embassy's concern over Zahid's arrest and called for an end to pressure on the media in Azerbaijan.

Zahid's lawyers said that within three days they will file a complaint in the appellate court regarding his pre-trial detention.

On 7 November, at approximately 4 p.m. (local time) Zahid was approaching Azerbaijan Publishing House, going up the stairs, when a young woman thrust herself onto Zahid. She began shouting, "You insulted me, you cursed at me!" A young man with an athletic-build then approached Zahid, and due to the women's allegations that Zahid insulted her, began beating the chief editor. Zahid's suit jacket was torn in the incident and he sustained minor injuries.

On 10 November at noon, Zahid was called to the Yasmal District Police Department and arrested. While Zahid intended to give the police a statement about the 7 November incident outside the Azerbaijan Publishing House, he was instead charged with inflicting minor bodily harm (Article 127) and hooliganism (Article 221), and detained by police.

It was later revealed that the criminal charges against Zahid were instituted on the basis of a complaint filed by Vusal Hasanov Shukur oglu. Sevgilade Guliyeva Azim gizi also gave a statement to police against Zahid. According to some newspaper accounts, these people met beforehand and on 7 November knowingly and willingly participated in an act of provocation against Zahid. Following the 7 November incident, Hasanov and Guliyeva got into a taxi together and fled the scene.
Members of the Popular Front Party in Azerbaijan also note that during the 2005 parliamentary election campaign, Hasanov insulted both the "Azadlig" newspaper and Popular Front Party Chairman Ali Kerimli on national television.

On 11 November, a meeting took place at the editorial office of "Musavat" newspaper in response to Zahid's arrest. "Yeni Nesil" Journalists Union chairman Arif Aliyev, Democratic Journalists League chairman Yadigar Mammedli, Media Rights Institute director Rashid Hajili, "Gundalik Azerbayjan" newspaper editor Shahvaled Chobanoglu, journalist Hamid Harichi, human rights advocate Ilgar Ibrahimgolu, "Yeni Musavat" newspaper chief editor Rauf Arifoglu, "Azadlig" newspaper director Azer Ahmedov and IRFS chairman Emin Huseynov participated in the meeting.

During the meeting, an appeal to Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev was drafted. In the appeal, the signatories ask that President Aliyev personally intercede in Zahid's case and order the relevant authorities to ensure freedom of expression. In addition to the participants in the meeting, "Ayna-Zerkalo" newspaper chief editor Elchin Shikhli and Turan news agency director Mehman Aliyev signed the appeal.

IRFS condemns the framing and subsequent arrest of Zahid. IRFS interprets the provocation against Zahid as an attempt to silence the independent and opposition press. IRFS would also like to remind the government of Azerbaijan that in the past two years, brutal attacks against journalists Bahaddin Haziyev, Fikret Huseynli, Nijat Huseynov, Uzeir Jafarov and others have not been thoroughly investigated by law enforcement agencies. In addition, the murder of journalist Elmar Huseynov remains unsolved due to artificial obstacles created by the government, leading many people to believe that the government itself is behind this crime (see IFEX alerts of 6 November, 8 and 5 March 2007, 10 August, 28 July and 28 February 2006, 5 May and 12 April 2005, and others). In this context, the framing and arrest of a leading opposition newspaper's chief editor is seen as additional evidence of the Azerbaijani government's desire to completely eliminate freedom of expression.

IRFS calls for the government of Azerbaijan to immediately release Zahid, put an end to provocations against journalists and free the eight other wrongfully imprisoned journalists in Azerbaijan. In addition, IRFS calls for the international community to put pressure on the government of Azerbaijan to release wrongfully imprisoned journalists and end its suppression of freedom of expression.

In a separate development on 11 November, the distribution of "Khural" newspaper was prevented in Baku and Yevlakh. This done via the intentional purchasing of every copy of the newspaper from every newspaper dealer in these two cities, the newspaper's chief editor, Avez Zeynalli, told IRFS. According to Zeynalli the 11 November edition of "Khural" featured a critical article about the head of Yevlakh region's executive administration, Elmar Valiyev. Zeynalli said that Valiyev's brother, Shahmar Valiyev, who holds a high-ranking government position, led the initiative to purchase of all the copies of that edition of "Khural". "Despite this, we continue to write these kinds of articles," concluded Zeynalli.

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