On the 7-th of March the editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper “Azadliq” – Ganimat Zahidov was sentenced to four-year imprisonment. Zahidov was convicted for “deliberately causing light injuries” and “hooliganism” in a trial in which the court did not allow key defense witnesses to testify. The charges were brought against him after a street skirmish on 7 November 2007. (10-MAR-08)
Written by Shahla Ismayilova/ HRH Azerbaijan on the basis of information from IRFS, Turan news agency, Yeni Musavat newspaper, Trend News Agency; photo from IRFS
The four-year sentence was passed on Zahidov by judge Sudaba Mamedova of the Yasamal district court in Baku. The prosecutor had requested five years. The man who accosted G.Zahidov, Vusal Hasanov, got an 18-month sentence.
Defense lawyer Elchin Sadigov said: “Neither I nor any other lawyer was informed about the verdict. The hearing was held secretly; that is why I don’t know who participated in it. I went to court and obtained the verdict. Zahid got 3.5 years under article 127.2.3 of Criminal Code (to cause minor health damage with the intention of hooliganism), and to 6 months under article 221 (hooliganism) – 4 years altogether.”
According to Zahid’s wife, Ayanda Mursaliyeva, Zahid was secretly brought to court at 11:00 a.m. (local time) and the verdict was read. The journalist’s wife, his lawyers and journalists were not informed about the hearing.
“Azadlig” newspaper head director, Azer Ahmadov said, “There is no logic to the pressures from this government. The government has been trying to silence ‘Azadlig’ for years. Employees of the newspaper have faced beatings, different civil charges and other pressures. Neither the newspaper nor its coverage will change, even if Ganimat gets 14 years’ imprisonment instead of four.”
The Reporters Without Borders published a press release on this issue. “This sentence is shocking and extremely severe,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We have every reason to suspect that the incident was contrived from the outset with the sole aim of silencing an opposition journalist. Even if Zahidov were guilty of what he is alleged to have done, a suspended sentence would have been more appropriate.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists is appalled by the four-year prison term given to Ganimat Zahidov, editor of the opposition daily Azadliq. “We denounce this travesty of justice and call for the immediate release of Ganimat Zahidov,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.
The OSCE Office of Media Freedom released a statement condemning the four year prison sentence that was handed down to “Azadlig” Newspaper Editor-in-Chief Ganimat Zahidov.
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, said that a four-year prison sentence handed down to the editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Azadliq was part of an ongoing campaign suppressing critical voices in Azerbaijan. “The harsh sentence against Ganimat Zahidov silences the editor of one of the few remaining newspapers critical of the government in the country,” Haraszti said.
Council of Europe Secretary General’s Special Representative to Azerbaijan Denis Bribosia said, “I express my thanks to the journalists who came here today. They are expressing their concern about the imprisonment of journalists in Azerbaijan and the current general situation. A group of journalists has introduced their concerns to me in a letter, and I will convey these concerns to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.”
IRFS calls on the international community to call for Azerbaijan’s government to release Zahid and Azerbaijan’s other wrongfully imprisoned journalists; Eynulla Fatullayev, Sakit Zahidov, and Mushfig Huseynov. IRFS also appeals to the European Council, asking that in light of the critical situation here a special rapportuer on political prisoners be appointed in the near future and sent to Azerbaijan to investigate the situation.
Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry expressed regret for statements of American and Norwegian embassies condemning arrest of Azadlig daily’s editor Ganimat Zahidov, Khazar Ibrahim, Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, said at press conference.
A protest against the imprisonment of “Azadliq” Newspaper Editor-in-Chief Ganimat Zahidov was conducted in front of the Baku office of the Council of Europe. Participants in the protest included “Azadliq” Newspaper Director Azer Ahmedov, Turan News Agency Director Mehman Aliyev, “Yeni Musavat” Newspaper Rauf Arifoglu, Democratic League of Journalists Chairman Yadigar Mammedli, and several journalists. Several of the participants, some of whom were carrying pictures of G. Zahidov, Sakit Zahidov, and Eynulla Fatullayev, were detained by police and taken to the local police station.