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Sports website project leader and journalist sentenced to "corrective labour"

(IRFS/IFEX) - On 7 October 2009, Judge Elmar Karimov of the Nasimi District Court issued a verdict against http://fanat.az sports website project head Zahir Azamat and website sports writer Natig Mukhtarli based on a lawsuit brought against them by Khazar-Lankaran Football Club president Mais Masimov. The lawsuit was filed under articles 147.2 (accusing someone of grave or particularly grave crimes) and 148 (insult) of the Criminal Code. The information regarding the case was provided to IRFS by Zahir Azamat.

Natig Mukhtarli was sentenced to one year of corrective labour, while Zahir Azamat was sentenced to six months' corrective labour. Both journalists are also required to pay 20% of their salaries to Mais Masimov. Zahir Azamat told IRFS that they will appeal the verdict.

Mais Masimov filed the lawsuit against Zahir Azamat and Natig Mukhtarli based on a claim that that his honour and dignity were insulted in Natig Mukhtarli's column on the sports website.

IRFS conducted monitoring of the fanat.az personnel's trial and found out that the investigation into their case was handled poorly and there was no sound evidence against the journalists to prove their guilt. In addition, although IRFS addressed an appeal to the judge and the hearings were open to the public, the judge did not permit journalists or monitors to film or take pictures during the proceedings.

IRFS condemns the Nasimi District Court's decision against Zahir Azamat and Natig Mukhtarli and calls on the higher courts to re-evaluate the verdict. IRFS also calls on business people and the authorities to show tolerance for critical articles.

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