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Nine-year sentence for Azeri editor politically-motivated, group says

Avaz Zeynalli stands behind bars during his trial at the Grave Crimes Court of Baku on 26 December 2012.
Avaz Zeynalli stands behind bars during his trial at the Grave Crimes Court of Baku on 26 December 2012.


(IRFS/IFEX) - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) resolutely condemns the sentencing of Khural newspaper editor-in-chief Avaz Zeynalli to 9 years in jail. Zeynalli was sentenced for bribery, extortion and tax evasion — charges that the organization believes to have been fabricated. IRFS considers Zeynalli's 16-month detention and today's [12 March] verdict to be a breach of international standards guaranteeing freedom of expression and calls for his immediate release.

“Today is another [dark] day in a terrible year for press freedom and freedom of expression in Azerbaijan”, said IRFS Chair Emin Huseynov. “Zeynalli's conviction is part of broader strategy to force self-censorship and plant fear among journalists and media outlets ahead of October's presidential elections”, Huseynov said.

Former parliamentarian Gular Ahmaddova — whose lawsuit over alleged bribery led to Zeynalli's conviction — was later arrested for involvement in a bribery case. She then publicly denied suing Zeynalli. This, along with the court's failure to prove the charges filed against him show that high-ranking government officials are behind his politically-motivated arrest.

IRFS protests the sentence handed to Zeynalli, as it violates international standards guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression. IRFS calls for his immediate release and for the charges against him to be dropped.

IRFS is furthermore gravely concerned by the rising number of Azerbaijani journalists facing lengthy prison terms on fabricated charges.

IRFS considers that using the criminal justice system to punish journalists for freely expressed views is contrary to Azerbaijan's constitution and international obligations, and has a chilling effect on journalists throughout the country.

The right to freedom of expression and information is guaranteed and protected by the provisions of international instruments, and treaties signed and ratified by the Government of Azerbaijan, notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 19, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 19, and Council of Europe Convention on Human Rights, Article 10.

IRFS therefore calls on the president to use his power and put an end to pressure on freedom of expression.

IRFS calls on international human rights organizations to show a strong reaction to the illegal decision of 9 years imprisonment for the journalist.

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