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Authorities confiscate newspaper's equipment

(IRFS/IFEX) - 20 October 2011 - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety condemns the confiscation of computers and other technical equipment from the "Khural" newspaper offices by executors from the Narimanov District Court. IRFS considers this an act of aggression by the Azerbaijani authorities against freedom of expression and condemns the court executors' disregard for the law.

In May 2011, assets belonging to "Khural" newspaper were inventoried for the payment of a 10,000 AZN (approx. US$12,700) fine resulting from a lawsuit filed by the head of the Presidential Administration, Ramiz Mehdiyev; a 5,000 AZN fine relating to a lawsuit filed by the executive director of the State Support Foundation for Mass Media, Vufar Safarli; and a 4,000 AZN fine relating to a lawsuit filed by singer Nushaba Alasgarli. The newspaper appealed the fines because of lack of funds.

"Khural" was established in October 2002 and originally published once a week. On 20 September 2011, it began publishing daily. According to editor-in-chief Avaz Zeynalli, the paper began publishing more frequently with equipment provided by his colleagues. A very small part of the confiscated equipment was actually owned by "Khural" newspaper; court executors included in the inventory equipment belonging to Liberal.az website, whose office is situated in the same building, and computers lent to "Khural" by other organizations.

IRFS notes that the court executors did not allow "Khural" to appeal against the decision to confiscate its property, though by law, the paper had the right to appeal to the court within 10 days. Instead, executors of the Narimanov District Court immediately and illegally executed the court decision. IRFS believes that this action was carried out to silence the independent newspaper.

Although "Khural" newspaper had been publishing daily for only one month, the paper became very popular and distinguished itself from other newspapers by its critical articles. IRFS does not exclude the possibility that the executors' actions may stem from the paper's recent reporting, including an article criticizing remarks made by President Ilham Aliyev during an interview with Al-Jazeera on 11 October.

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government and the president to show tolerance towards the media, and urges them to drop the trumped up charges against "Khural" and return the newspaper's confiscated assets.

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