Azerbaijan: Journalist jailed to silence criticism
|Publication Date||13 March 2013|
|Cite as||Article 19, Azerbaijan: Journalist jailed to silence criticism, 13 March 2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/514080a52.html [accessed 29 November 2015]|
ARTICLE 19 condemns a 9-year prison sentence handed to the journalist Avaz Zeynalli and calls for his immediate release.
On 12 March Zeynalli was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment on charges of extortion, tax evasion and failure to implement a court decision. Zeynalli is the editor-in-chief of the Xural newspaper, which has been openly critical of the government and of President Aliyev.
The charges against Zeynalli were based on claims made by former Member of Parliament Gular Ahmadova, who said that he attempted to blackmail her. No evidence was provided in court to substantiate her claims and Ahmadova did not attend the trial.
Ahmadova was herself taken into custody on 13 February 2013 charged with involvement in a corruption scam.
ARTICLE 19 believes that Zeynalli's incarceration is a direct attempt to silence his criticism of the government.
"Avaz Zeynalli should not have been imprisoned today. His sentence comes at a time of increasing pressure on those who speak out publicly against the government of Azerbaijan - be it through the media, on the internet or in the street" said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.
"It is of utmost concern that the government throws its critics in jail and the world remains quiet on the subject. The international community needs to speak out and condemn actions like this. There needs to be a concentrated effort to scrutinise Azerbaijan's human rights record," Callamard added.
Azerbaijan will have its 2nd Universal Period Review next month in Geneva at the UN, when all member states will have the opportunity to provide recommendations to the authorities to strengthen human rights in the country.
ARTICLE 19 is concerned that the crackdown on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan is gaining momentum in the country.
"This was a clear political order from those who Zeynalli publicly criticised. None of the charges were proven in court, and this harsh sentence will be seen as a warning to other journalists to refrain from criticising government officials. This will result in fear and self-censorship," said Rashid Hajili, the Director of the Media Rights Institute, which represented Zeynalli in court.
"Zeynalli had earlier come under pressure to refrain from criticising public officials through administrative and civil court proceedings, and when it became clear that he would not stop his journalistic activities the only way to silence him was to use criminal sanctions," Hajili added.
The Xural newspaper was founded by Zeynalli in October 2002 and published weekly until September 20 2011 when it began producing daily editions. On October 17, Zeynalli wrote an article which accused Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, of not being interested in the national independence of the country.
Two days later, on October 19, the Narimanov district court sanctioned the confiscation of the newspaper's property. The reason given was the paper's failure to pay court-issued fines worth 19,000 AZN to Presidential Administration Head Ramiz Mehdiyev and Mass Media State Support Fund Executive Director Vugar Safarli, amongst others.
The following day another article critical of President Aliyev appeared in Xural, and two days later the newspaper's printing press refused to print the newspaper.
The confiscated property has since been sold, without the paper's owners' prior knowledge, and another investigation was started into the paper's business affairs. A fine of 3,625 AZN was imposed for tax evasion after the Tax Audit Departments concluded that taxes amounting to 7,251 AZN were not paid. It must be noted however that this amount has been calculated using over-inflated circulation numbers and newspaper copy prices.