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Three journalists still imprisoned years later

Journalist Malahat Nasibova has been awarded the 2009 Rafto Human Rights Award; journalists continue to be assaulted for criticising the government.
Journalist Malahat Nasibova has been awarded the 2009 Rafto Human Rights Award; journalists continue to be assaulted for criticising the government.

via Human Rights House Network

After several years, two editors and a journalist remain imprisoned in Azerbaijan for their relentless criticism of the government, report the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and other IFEX members. In an open letter to President Ilham Aliyev, IRFS has demanded an end to the persecution of journalists and mass media, saying it is an impediment to the democratic development of the country.

Eynulla Fatullayev, 33, editor and founder of "Gundalik Azerbaijan" and "Realniy Azerbaidjan" has been behind bars for three years, reports IRFS. Ganimat Zahidov, editor of "Azadlig" and reporter Mushfig Huseynov at "Bizim Yol", have also been detained for the past two years.

Zahidov was denied an early release from prison on 17 September because he refused to play a game of volley-ball, reports Reporters Without Borders (RSF). His lawyer had requested that the rest of his sentence be commuted to work in the community interest because of his exemplary behaviour in prison and because he has a family to look after. Azeri law permits this when a prisoner has served a third of his sentence.

On a more positive note, Fatullayev will be honoured by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as one of five journalists being given the 2009 International Press Freedom Award.

According to CPJ, when Fatullayev's friend and colleague Elmar Huseynov was murdered in 2005, the journalist sought out the perpetrator. In 2007, he published an article accusing Azerbaijani authorities of obstructing the investigation into the killing and alleged that Huseynov's murder was set in motion by high-ranking officials in Baku and carried out by criminal elements. Four days later, Fatullayev began receiving death threats. Then in October 2007, Fatullayev was convicted after a series of politicised charges, including "terrorism,"and hit with an eight-year sentence.

Meanwhile, another Azeri journalist has been awarded the 2009 Rafto Human Rights Award: Malahat Nasibova reports on violations by the police against ordinary citizens, kidnapping of members of the opposition and attacks on journalists, reports the Human Rights House Network. She is a correspondent for the independent information bureau "Turan" in Azerbaijan and for "Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty." She is also the leader of the human rights organisation "Democracy and NGO's Development Resource Center" in Nakhchivan.

After a three-day mission to Baku, the capital, in September, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) has called for "drastic reforms" to the media environment. WAN-IFRA noted that Azerbaijani journalists work under a climate of fear and intimidation, and made several recommendations, including an end to assaults on journalists and the decriminalisation of libel and defamation.

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