Alert! Azadlig newspaper ordered to pay huge fine in defamation case

September 13th, 2012
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety strongly condemns the Appeals Court decision to deny Azadlig newspaper’s appeal and uphold the original ruling of Yasamal District Court, imposing 30,000 AZN fine on the newspaper. IRFS considers this decision to constitute suppression of critical media and reiterates that it is profoundly concerned over the abuse of criminal defamation laws in Azerbaijan.

Baku Metro head Tagi Ahmadov had appealed to Yasamal District Court against Azadlig newspaper, claiming that his dignity, honor, and business reputation were insulted in an article titled “Tagi Ahmadov appropriated 5 kopecks” published in the April 8, 2012 issue of the newspaper, which noted that after the metro fares had been raised to 20 kopecks, it became impossible to use 5 kopecks previously loaded into metro cards. Ahmadov asked the court to require the newspaper to issue a retraction and to pay damages of 200 000 AZN . On June 13, 2012 Yasamal District Court ruled that the newspaper must publish a retraction and pay 30 000 manats to Tagi Ahmadov in compensation.

The decision of the Court of Appeals has the power of res judicata, i.e. it is a final judgment and is no longer subject to appeal. Thus, the court has given Tagi Ahmadov right to demand payment of damages at any time. IRFS reminds that Azadliq newspaper has faced severe difficulties in the recent period due to state control of the advertising market and printing and distribution facilities, and large fines imposed as the result of numerous defamation cases. . IRFS views the case against Azadlig newspaper as part of a broader practice and is deeply concerned about the use of defamation lawsuits to intimidate and silence criticism, opposition or dissent, resulting in a chilling effect on the free flow of information in the country.

IRFS states that government and pro-government officials may demand immediate implementation of compensation orders, as was in the case of Khural newspaper and confiscate the assets of the newspapers, which would mean the end of the physical existence of newspapers.

IRFS calls upon the Azerbaijani government and officials to be tolerant to criticisms by the media and to refrain from suppressing freedom of expression by exerting strong financial pressure. IRFS also calls on the president of Azerbaijan to use his powers to stop attacks on press freedom and urges international organizations to demand that the Azerbaijani government put an end to pressure on the press and fulfill its international obligations.