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Radio journalist sentenced to prison on slander charge, faces risk of torture

(IRFS/IFEX) - IRFS severely condemns the arrest and conviction of Radio Liberty correspondent Ilgar Nasibov, who works in Azerbaijan's autonomous enclave of Nakhchivan. At 3:00 p.m. (local time) on 6 December 2007, Nasibov was called to the Nakhchivan City Court where Judge Ulvi Ismayilov sentenced him to three months' imprisonment.

Nasibov's wife, Malahet Nasibova, told IRFS that her husband was convicted under article 147.1 of slander, on the basis of a lawsuit filed by Nakhchivan City Police Department Chief Sabuhi Novruzov.

The conviction stems from a 4 November incident in which Malahet Nasibova was insulted by Nakhchivan City Police Department Deputy Chief Ershad Ibrahimov. Specifically, Ibrahimov called Nasibova a "traitor." Following this incident, the Nasibovs sent a complaint to the e-mail address of the president of Azerbaijan. Novruzov's lawsuit was based on the content of the letter sent to the president.

In IRFS' opinion, the arrest and criminal prosecution of Nasibov because of something he wrote violates article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers." IRFS also notes that Article 147.1 of Azerbaijan's Criminal Code only applies to material that has been disseminated on a large scale via the press, published books and/or a public speech; it does not apply in the case of a private letter to the president.

Mammed Rzayev, who works with an NGO, told IRFS that Nasibov was deprived of legal representation in his 6 December court hearing, and that it is extremely likely that the journalist has been or will be subjected to torture. After the hearing, Nasibov was supposed to be transferred immediately to prison; however, Rzayev claims that Nasibov was instead taken to the basement of the police department, a place associated with torture. "Yeni Musavat" correspondent Hakim Eldostu Mehdiyev, who was unlawfully arrested at the end of September and later released, was subjected to torture in the same basement.

Also on 6 December, at approximately 7:00 p.m. the Nasibov household was searched by local employees of the Ministry of the Interior, on the basis of a court decision adopted by Judge Ismayilov. The couple's computer and all their disks and CDs were confiscated. The search relates to a separate lawsuit, again for slander, reportedly filed by Nakhchivan State University director and parliamentarian Isa Habibeyli. Habibeyli attended Nasibov's hearing, where he alleged that Nasibov possessed slanderous material about him on his computer.

In IRFS' opinion, this search and the subsequent confiscation of the Nasibovs' belongings represents a violation of the right of journalists to keep their sources secret, enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and of the right to freedom of conscience, enshrined in Article 9 of the same Convention.

IRFS calls for Ilgar Nasibov's immediate release and for the immediate activation of local and international human rights and press freedom organizations to advocate for the restoration of his rights and for the prosecution of the people behind his unlawful arrest and conviction. IRFS also calls for the Azerbaijan government to end the suppression of freedom of expression and to fulfill its international obligations in the areas of freedom of expression and human rights.

Ilgar Nasibov's detention makes him the eleventh journalist in Azerbaijan to be wrongfully imprisoned. According to a report of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Azerbaijan has the fifth highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world.

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