REGIONS:

SUBSCRIBE:

Sign up for weekly updates

Two journalists seek ECHR recourse following criminal defamation conviction, suspension of their constitutional rights

(WPFC/IFEX) - The following is an abridged 19 March 2008 WPFC press release:

WPFC Makes Fund Against Censorship Grant to Azerbaijan Journalists Who Are Taking Their Case to the European Court of Human Rights

Reston, USA, March 19, 2008 - The World Press Freedom Committee ( http://www.wpfc.org ) - an organization representing 45 press freedom groups from throughout the world - made a second Fund Against Censorship grant to fund the legal defense of Azerbaijan journalists Rovshen Kebirli, editor of Mukhalifet, an independent newspaper, and Yashar Agazade, a reporter of this publication. Both have decided to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting all domestic legal recourses.

Even though Messrs. Kebirli and Agazade were freed from prison in December thanks to a presidential pardon, they still are considered criminals and some of their constitutional rights - such as freedom to travel and their right to run for office - are still suspended.

"We are supporting this new legal effort in view of the terrible judicial harassment they continue to be subject to, including two separate jail sentences for each, which drove them into a hunger strike last year," said WPFC's Executive Director Mark Bench. "Now they have only one legal recourse to seek justice, the European Court of Human Rights, and we will stand by them until their good names are reinstated by the Azeri authorities."

At least three other journalists are still in prison in Azerbaijan, and this continuous harassment on that country's independent media has become physical in recent weeks. On March 13th, Agil Khalil, a reporter for the opposition newspaper Azadlig, was stabbed as he was leaving his office. This is the latest in a series of attacks against him and his newspaper.

As for Messrs. Kebirli and Agazade, on May 16, 2007, they were originally sentenced to two and a half years in prison as a result of the criminal defamation proceedings against them stemming from the publication of an article critical of Parliament member Jalal Aliyev, a close relative of President Ilham Aliyev.

The article, published on Feb. 27, 2007, accused Jalal Aliyev of corruption and mismanagement of agriculture fields. He reacted by pressing criminal defamation charges against the two journalists for "insulting his dignity."

In another extensively researched Mukhalifet article drawing upon several official documents, Aliyev was accused of failing to fulfill his contractual obligations, including the payment of US$20 million to an Iranian businessman. Aliyev hit back with another criminal defamation suit, and the journalists were found guilty and sentenced to another two and a half years in prison.

The local Caucus Media Investigations Center condemned the sentences calling them "politically motivated," an attack on freedom of expression, and a violation of the country's Constitution and of international treaties of which Azerbaijan is a signatory.

Messrs. Kebirli and Agazade have joined several other journalists in prison, making Azerbaijan one of the least press-freedom-friendly countries in the world.

WPFC intervened on behalf of both of them by sending a protest letter to President Aliyev urging him to use his influence in order to gain the release of not only Messrs. Kebirli and Agazade but also all imprisoned journalists in Azerbaijan.

"The incarcerations of Messrs. Kebirli and Agazade and the rest of their colleagues constitute a frontal attack on the very press freedom principles whose respect is essential for the functioning of a democratic society," wrote Exective Director Bench. "Therefore, your Excellency, I urge you to use the full extent of the executive power's influence to begin immediately the appropriate proceedings to free all of them."

One day after the letter was published by the national media, Kebirli and Agazade started a hunger strike that took a heavy toll on both men's health.

Jalal Aliyev's judicial harassment on these journalists started in 2003, when a Mukhalifet article allegedly revealed him as the head of a "grain mafia" and accused him of using his privileged position - at that time his brother Heyday Aliyev, the father of the current president, was the head of the Azeri state - to enrich himself. Jalal Aliyev filed a defamation suit that cost Kebirli a five-month prison sentence, which was eventually nullified by Parliamentary amnesty.

(. . .)

For the complete press release, see: http://www.wpfc.org/PRAzerbaijan31908.html

Updates the Kebirli and Agazade (Agazadeh) cases: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/89351

For further information on the Khalil case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/91640/

Latest Tweet:

How did social media pressure help the release of Pashtun human rights activist Gulalai Ismail who was detained at… https://t.co/ovtJfxqXc5

Get more stories like this

Sign up for our newsletters and get the most important free expression news delivered to your inbox.

CLOSE