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Justice ministry harassment targets IRFS activities, says group's director

UPDATE: IRFS lawsuit against Ministry of Justice denied (IRFS, 28 July 2012)

(IRFS/IFEX) – 7 February 2012 – The Justice Ministry of the Republic of Azerbaijan has sent a warning letter to the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) claiming that the group failed to warn the ministry that it had elected a new chairman. IRFS director Emin Huseynov called a special press conference at the IRFS Press Center yesterday to discuss the issue.

According to Huseynov, "When IRFS was registered, its chairman was Rizvanov Sarvan Samad. In 2006, I was elected the chairman of the Public Union and we officially notified the Justice Ministry. In January 2010, we provided the ministry with information about the 2008 and 2010 chairman elections, and received official confirmation from the ministry in March 2010."

The warning letter also said that the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (NAR) had sent a complaint to the ministry claiming that IRFS had uploaded biased and untrue information about Nakhchivan on their local website, .

The letter claimed that both incidents were violations of Article 10 of the Law on Mass Media.

Huseynov believes the warning stems from IRFS's activities, specifically its role in the "Sing for Democracy" campaign. IRFS, together with the Peace and Democracy Institute, the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center, and the Human Rights Club, are organising a "Sing for Democracy" campaign to use the Eurovision song contest to draw the international community's attention to the human rights, media freedom and freedom of expression situation in Azerbaijan.

Huseynov said that it was possible that the group's registration could be revoked as a result of the groundless accusations, but that the organisation would continue its activities. If two such warning letters are sent in the course of a year, the Justice Ministry can ask the courts to cancel an NGO's registration.

For the time being, IRFS plans to appeal the ministry's letter to the courts. Huseynov said the group will also appeal to the organising committee of the Eurovision Song Contest, the OSCE, the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the UN regarding the letter.

The Executive Director of the Norwegian Human Rights House, Maria Dahle, expressed her dissatisfaction with the Justice Ministry's action. "We will inform all international organisations and democratic states about the illegal actions of the Azerbaijani government," said Dahle. She added that the 54 branches of the Human Rights House would provide international support to IRFS.

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