Friday, April 17, 2009

Azerbaijan: Imprisoned journalists released

Azerbaijan: Imprisoned journalists released

Published: April 15, 2009

English PEN was delighted to learn that independent journalists Sakit Mirza Zakhidov and Asif Marzili were released from prison on 9 April 2009.

The following is an alert from the Committee to Protect Journalists, who have since urged Azerbaijani authorities to free the remaining journalists serving jail terms on trumped-up criminal charges, published on 9 April:

Zakhidov, a prominent satirist and commentator for the pro-opposition daily Azadlyg in Baku, was released early this morning under the Pardon Act passed by parliament in March, the Baku-based news agency Trend reported. Zakhidov served all but two and a half months of his three-year prison term; he was arrested in June 2006 on fabricated charges of drug possession. Azerbaijan's parliament passed the amnesty act to mark the spring holiday of Novruz, local press reported. Trend reported that up to 1,700 prisoners may be released under the act.

In a separate case, the appeals court in Baku annulled the verdict of a lower court and released Marzili, the editor of the independent weekly Tezadlar. Marzili had been sentenced on Tuesday to one year in prison on defamation charges, the Azeri Press Agency reported. The same court also scrapped today the six-month suspended corrective labor sentence against Zumrud Mammedova, a Tezadlar freelancer, who was sentenced on Tuesday in the same case.

"We are relieved that at long last Sakit Zakhidov, whose only crime was doing his job, is free and reunited with his family and friends," said CPJ's Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. "We also commend the appeals court's decision to scrap the charges against Asif Marzili and Zumrud Mammedova. However, these positive developments are overshadowed by the continued imprisonment of at least four other journalists in Azerbaijan. We call on President Ilham Aliyev and his government to release them immediately."

Emin Huseynov, director of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, told CPJ that Zakhidov and Marzili told him they will continue their work in journalism. Huseynov met with Zakhidov today and said the satirist is eager to return to his work at Azadlyg.

English PEN would like to thank all those who sent letters of appeal to the authorities in Azerbaijan on behalf of Sakit Mirza Zakhidov.

***UPDATE: New York, April 15, 2009: The Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement after authorities released Ali Hasanov, editor of the pro-government daily Ideal, who had been serving a six-month jail term for criminal defamation. The journalist served all but one month of his sentence and was freed under the Pardon Act passed by parliament last month.

"We welcome the early release of Ali Hasanov but remain gravely concerned about at least three other journalists who remain behind bars on trumped-up charges in Azerbaijan," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. "The government of President Ilham Aliyev should end its restrictive policy towards the press and release all jailed journalists."

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