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Presidential chief of staff says RSF misrepresents media situation, journalists in jail for criminal activities

(RSF/IFEX) - On 7 May 2008, Presidential chief of staff Ramiz Mekhtiev made "unacceptable" comments at a conference organised in Baku by the ruling party Yeni Azerbaidjan on the subject of democracy and stability, Reporters Without Borders said.

Mekhtiev said "the views expressed by Reporters Without Borders are not based on facts" and "relations between the government and the media in Azerbaijan are no different from those observed in Europe." He also said the journalists in prison in Azerbaijan were there because they were criminals, not because of their journalistic activity.

"We must firmly condemn Mekhtiev's comments," Reporters Without Borders said. "Contrary to what he says, the positions taken by Reporters Without Borders are based on facts and are not dictated by any supposed desire to put pressure on any country. We note that three journalists are still being held in Azerbaijan as a result of questionable prosecutions that appear to have been reprisals for their critical views."

Reporters Without Borders added: "We are also shocked by the presidential chief of staff's clumsy attempt to minimise the gravity of the situation in Azerbaijan by crudely exaggerating press freedom violations in western Europe. And he said all this the same day that a court began to hear the appeal of one of the journalists who is being held unjustly."

Azerbaijan's three imprisoned journalists are Eynulla Fatullaev, the editor of the dailies "Realny Azerbaijan" and "Gundalik Azerbaijan", Ganimat Zahidov, the editor of the opposition daily "Azadlig", and his older brother Sakit Zahidov, a contributor to the newspaper. They are serving sentences ranging from two and a half years to four years in prison.

On 7 May, a court began to hear Ganimat Zahidov's appeal against the four-year sentence he received from a Baku court on 7 March on charges of "aggravated hooliganism" and "assault and battery."

Journalists and human rights activists staged a hunger strike at the start of April in protest against the imprisonment of these three journalists.

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