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Journalist Sakit Zahidov, editor Asif Merzili freed from prison

(IRFS/IFEX) - On 9 April 2009, after two years and nine months in prison, "Azadlig" newspaper satirist and journalist Sakit Zahidov was granted an amnesty and released.

Zahidov said he wished all prisoners who had been unjustly arrested would be freed. He noted that he had continued his work while in prison and intended to carry on with it from now on. "I kept working in prison and will continue my criticisms of officials. Starting tomorrow my poems will be published in 'Azadlig'," Zahidov said.

Along with co-workers, Zahidov's family and close relatives greeted the journalist in front of the prison.

Also on 9 April, a hearing was held into the appeal filed by "Tezadlar" newspaper editor-in-chief Asif Merzili against a 7 April decision issued by Judge Tahir Ismayilov of the Yasamal District Court. The hearing was held in the Baku Appellate Court, chaired by Judge Gail Mammadov. Judge Mammadov reversed the earlier decision against Merzili and ruled that the editor should be freed and that the case should be returned to the first instance court for reconsideration. The judge also ruled to have Judge Abbas Rzayev, who considered the case against Merzili, as well as Judge Ismayilov, who issued an arrest warrant against him, harshly reprimanded, according to Merzili's defence lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, of the Media Rights Institute. The judge's decision will be sent to the Courts' Law Council for evaluation.

The judge also annulled the decision of the Yasamal District Court sentencing freelance journalist Zumrud Mammadova to six months of corrective labour.

On 7 April, on the basis of a lawsuit filed by Azerbaijan International University (AIU) Director Elshad Abdullayev, Merzili was sentenced by the Yasamal District Court to one year in prison for defamation. The lawsuit stemmed from an article published in the newspaper in 2008 entitled "Is Mahir Abdullayev in Baku?", and a series of articles related to this topic. In the lawsuit, Abdullayev sought the closure of "Tezadlar" and the arrest of both Merzili and Mammadova, along with a fine of a 30,000 AZN (approx. US$37,000) against both journalists for moral damages.

Updates the Merzili case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/102194

Updates the Zahidov case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99594

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