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Editor dies in detention

Azerbaijani editor Novruzali Mammadov died on 17 August while serving a 10-year jail sentence on
Azerbaijani editor Novruzali Mammadov died on 17 August while serving a 10-year jail sentence on "spurious" charges of espionage


The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 are questioning the death of an Azeri journalist while in custody, saying inadequate medical attention may have contributed to his demise.

Novruzali Mammadov, the 68-year-old former editor of "Tolishi Sado" (Voice of Talysh) and vocal defender of the human rights of the ethnic Talysh minority, died on 17 August while serving a 10-year jail sentence on "spurious" charges of espionage.

Mammadov suffered deteriorating health throughout his incarceration, especially while in solitary confinement, say the IFEX members, and the government failed to grant him early release. Although a Baku court granted Mammadov's appeal in March to be transferred to a medical facility, he wasn't moved until 28 July, and only then to a prison hospital.

CPJ says Mammadov told his lawyer he suffered from a number of illnesses, including hypertension, bronchitis, neuritis and a prostate tumour.

According to IRFS, the Justice Ministry's Penitentiary Services Central Hospital said he died as a result of a severe brain thrombosis.

IRFS condemns the Azerbaijan government for his "mysterious death" and believes the lives of other imprisoned journalists and bloggers are in danger. Faina Kungurova, a female political activist who was arrested for political reasons, also died in the Justice Ministry's hospital in October 2007.

Mammadov had been detained since February 2007, initially on a trumped-up charge of resisting arrest, which was then changed to a treason charge, says CPJ. "Tolishi Sado" closed down after his arrest.

Local and international rights groups considered the charges politically motivated, particularly as the trial was closed to the public and because evidence against Mammadov was never made public. According to CPJ sources, the case was based on an allegation that Mammadov had received money from Iran to publish "Tolishi Sado".

"The practice of wrongfully imprisoning journalists and then keeping them in prison while their health suffers is cruel punishment and an unacceptable tool in the government's strategy to limit freedom of expression," said ARTICLE 19.

ARTICLE 19 is urging the government to make public the list of medical conditions that would allow for a prisoner's early release, and to release all journalists who have been wrongfully imprisoned.

According to the International Press Institute (IPI), Azerbaijan is Europe's worst jailer of journalists, with at least four other Azeri journalists currently serving prison sentences that international and intergovernmental organisations have criticised as unjust.

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