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FIVE JOURNALISTS RELEASED FROM PRISON

The President of Azerbaijan has pardoned and released five jailed journalists, reports the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), but at least three journalists remain behind bars.

Samir Sadagatoglu and Rafiq Tagi, editor-in-chief and correspondent of the newspaper "Senet"; Faramaz Novruzoglu, correspondent for the paper "Nota Bene"; and Rovshan Kabirli and Yashar Agazade, editor-in-chief and correspondent from the newspaper "Mukhalifat", were among 119 prisoners pardoned by presidential decree on 28 December and released the following day. According to IRFS and CPJ, the five had been jailed in the past two years on charges of defamation and "inciting religious hatred."

IFEX members as well as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are hoping that authorities will use the opportunity to decriminalise defamation. Miklos Haraszti, OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media, says, "As long as defamation remains a criminal offence in the country, journalists cannot work without fear of prosecution."

At least three journalists remain imprisoned: Eynulla Fatullayev, and brothers Genimet and Sakit Zakhidov.

Fatullayev, editor of the independent Russian-language weekly "Realny Azerbaijan" and the Azeri-language daily "Gündalik Azarbaycan", was targeted shortly after he published a report alleging an official cover-up in the 2005 slaying of fellow Azerbaijani editor Elmar Huseynov. Fatullayev is now serving a prison term on trumped-up charges of defamation, terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred and tax evasion.

Genimet Zakhidov, editor of the opposition daily "Azadlig", was placed in pre-trial detention in November on a "hooliganism" charge. His brother and co-worker, Sakit Zakhidov, is serving a three-year sentence on a heroin possession charge. Sakit said a police officer planted the drugs.

IRFS reports that a fourth journalist, "Bizim Yol" newspaper correspondent Mushvig Huseynov, remains in pre-trial detention.

Visit these links:
- IRFS on pardoned journalists: http://tinyurl.com/yuqvlm
- IRFS on journalists still in jail: http://tinyurl.com/27552e
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/yrmmvs
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24958
- OSCE: http://www.osce.org/item/29173.html
- Amnesty International: http://tinyurl.com/yps8qb
(8 January 2008)

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