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Journalist for Iranian TV station imprisoned on drug charges

(IRFS/IFEX) - 22 February 2012 - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) is concerned over the arrest of Anar Bayramli, an Azerbaijani citizen working as the Baku correspondent to Iran's Sahar TV, and condemns the forces who put him in jail.

Five police officers visited Bayramli's house on the evening of February 17, and, without giving any reason, took him to the Binagady District Police Office #4. His family members contacted the Police Office and they were told that 0.0387 grams of heroin had been found on Bayramli. The journalist is being charged under Article 234.1 (illegal possession of drugs), and has been detained in Kurdakhani investigative prison. Bayramli was sentenced to two months of pre-trial detention. He was provided with a lawyer three days after his arrest.

IRFS believes that the journalist is a casualty of the recent tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran. Sahar TV channel is known for dealing with political and social problems in Azerbaijan, and strongly criticizes the authorities in its Azeri language news stories. The Azerbaijani ruling establishment believes that Sahar TV is deliberately seeking to destablize the socio-political situation in Azerbaijan. This has led to the pressure on this TV channel. For instance, Ahmad Kazimi, the head of Iran TV and Radio Organization's Baku Office was not allowed into Azerbaijan on December 9, 2011, and deported from the Baku International Airport. Two months before, the editor-in-chief of islamazeri.com website Ramin Bayramov was arrested under drug possession and later arms possession charge. Bayramov's arrest coincided with the arrest of Islamic Party activists. Azerbaijani law-enforcement agencies believe that the Islamic Party is linked to Iran.

IRFS believes that the arrest of journalists under false charges is inadmissible, irrespective of the political situation between the countries.

IRFS recalls that the arrest of journalists in Azerbaijan under trumped up narcotics charge is not unprecedented. Former Azadliq newspaper employee Mirza Sakit received three years in jail for alleged heroin possession; Eynulla Fatullayev, former editor-in-chief of Realniy Azerbaidjan newspaper, received 2.5 years in jail under a similar charge. Xural newspaper editor-in-chief Avaz Zeynalli and this newspaper's regional correspondent Aydin Janiyev are also in prison under false charges.

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to immediately release Avaz Zeynalli, Aydin Janiyev, Anar Bayramli and Ramin Bayramov and to demonstrate tolerance towards freedom of expression.

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