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IRFS condemns government for editor's death in custody

(IRFS/IFEX) - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety condemns Azerbaijan's government for the mysterious death of Novruzali Mammadov, the formerly imprisoned editor-in-chief of "Tolishi Sado" newspaper, and declares that the political responsibility for this death rests on Azerbaijan's government.

The 68-year-old editor, who was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment for unproven treachery charges, passed away on 17 August 2009, at the Justice Ministry's Penitentiary Services Central Hospital. Although the Penitentiary Services reported that Mammadov died as a result of a severe brain thrombosis, it is written in the local press that Mammadov died due to heart failure.

On 18 January, Mammadov was put in "solitary confinement" in Prison #15 and as a result he developed serious health problems. Then he appealed to the court, and in March, the court accepted his claim and issued a decision to immediately transfer him to a medical facility. However, the prison leadership ignored the court's decision and Mammadov's health deteriorated further. On 28 July, Mammadov's health became critical and he was transferred to the Justice Ministry's Penitentiary Services Central Hospital. Considering the seriousness of Mammadov's health problems, local and international organizations (Council of Europe Secretary General's Special Envoy for Azerbaijan Veronica Kotek, Ombudsman Elmira Suleymanova and so on) called for the editor-in-chief to be placed in a civilian hospital, and to invite a medical consultant expert via the Council of Europe to see him. However, this was not permitted.

IRFS believes that the arrest of Mammadov, the author of "Tolishi-Urusi-Tirkeyi Luget" (Talysh-Russian-Turkish dictionary), was politically motivated and that the government imprisoned Mammadov to restrict his freedom of speech.

IRFS declares that Mammadov's death indicates that the lives of imprisoned journalists and bloggers are in danger and considers this a terrorist act of the government against freedom of speech.

According to IRFS, the responsibility for the death of Mammadov rests on the government. The organisation calls on Azerbaijan's government to investigate this death and release all of Azerbaijan's imprisoned journalists and all other prisoners arrested for violations of freedom of speech.

IRFS notes that this is not first time that people arrested for the expression of their political views have passed away in prison. Faina Kungurova, a female political activist who was arrested for political reasons, died in the Justice Ministry's hospital on 19 October 2007.

IRFS considers that these kinds of cases are the result of the Azeri government's indifference, and its disrespectful and inhumane approach towards the life of people and journalists who have different political views. As a result of this attitude, the murder of Elmar Huseynov, editor-in-chief of "Monitor" journal, has not been solved yet, and the government is not concerned with finding the executors and the people behind this murder.

IRFS expresses its condolences in connection with Mammadov's death, and calls on international organizations to investigate the mysterious death of Mammadov and to impose sanctions against officials that hold political responsibility for this death.

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