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Journalist denied release for refusing to play volleyball in prison

(RSF/IFEX) - On the prison system's recommendation, a judge has rejected a request for the early release of Ganimat Zahidov, the editor of the opposition daily "Azadlig", on the grounds that he refused to take part in a volley-ball game in prison. The decision was taken by a regional court in Azizbekov on 17 September 2009.

Zahidov's lawyer had asked for the rest of his sentence to be commuted to work in the community interest because of his exemplary behaviour in prison and the fact that he has a family to look after. Azeri law allows this when a prisoner has served a third of his sentence.

"The sole aim of the Azizbekov regional court's decision is to keep Zahidov in prison as long as possible and prevent him from expressing his views," Reporters Without Borders said. "It also aims to maintain the climate of intimidation against journalists."

Describing the decision as "illegal and devoid of any basis," Zahidov's lawyer, Elchin Sadyhov, said he was determined to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. As grounds for rejecting the request, the prison system also claimed that Zahidov "had expressed no regrets." His lawyer, however, pointed out that "there is no procedure for repentance under Azeri criminal law."

Detained since November 2007, Zahidov is serving a four-year sentence imposed on 7 March 2008 on charges of "aggravated hooliganism" and "assault and battery" that were trumped up by the police.

Two other journalists, Eynulla Fatullayev and Mushfig Husseynov, are currently jailed in Azerbaijan.

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