Colleagues demand immediate release of journalist Avaz Zeynalli

A group of journalists and media workers demand immediate release of Khural Newspaper chief editor, Avaz Zeynalli. The group, involved in the on-going investigations of attacks on journalists, this time presented an analysis of Zeynalli’s controversial trial during the July 11 roundtable event at the IRFS’s Azerbaijan Media and Human Rights Center.

The group believes that the criminal case of the Khural newspaper editor-in-chief Avaz Zeynalli was falsified for political reasons, the investigation was biased, the court almost did not investigate the case, and the verdict was in fact a copy of the indictment.

Member of the Group, Afgan Mukhtarli said Zeynalli’s colleagues will step up efforts for his acquittal on the eve of the consideration of his cassation appeal and suggested including the issue of Avaz Zeynalli’s release into the agenda of the National Council (NB: National Council of Democratic Forces is a union of politicians, political party and NGO leaders set up with a goal to achieve democratic changes in the country by participating in the upcoming presidential election with a single platform and as a united force).

A complaint has been filed with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The defense complains over the journalist’s illegal arrest and the searches done in his office and apartment, and unless the Supreme Court reverse the verdict a complaint will be submitted to Strasbourg on the merits of the case.

Investigative journalist Shahvalad Chobanoglu urged the government to stop its attempts to stifle the independent journalism.

Turan Information Agency Director Mehman Aliyev said an independent journalistic investigation confirmed that Zeynalli’s case is politically motivated. “The order to arrest Zeynalli came from the Presidential Administration and its head Ramiz Mehdiyev. His arrest is a political retaliation for his criticizing and exposing high-ranking officials. The purpose of criminal prosecution of Zeynalli was to silence the media” said Aliyev.

IRFS Chairman Emin Huseynov said currently the country has more than 60 political prisoners, among whom there are two journalists and seven human rights defender. Huseynov called on the democratic community to unite their efforts for the freedom of journalists.

Media Rights Institute Director Rashid Hajili by arresting Zeynalli the government cracks down on the freedom of speech in Azerbaijan as a whole.

During the meeting it was proposed to hold a picket on July 22 – National Press Day with a demand to release Zeynalli and other journalists.

Background: Avaz Zeynalli was arrested on October 28, 2011 following a lawsuit brought by former MP Gular Ahmadova. The Anti-Corruption Office launched a criminal case against Zeynalli under article 311.3.3 (taking a large bribe) and article 311.3.4 (extortion) of the Criminal Code. Zeynalli was later charged under article 306 (contempt of court) and article 213.1 (tax evasion). On 13 February 2013 the public prosecutor requested 11 years imprisonment for Zeynalli. On 12 March 2013 the Baku Grave Crimes Court sentenced the journalist to nine years in prison. The decision was upheld by Baku Appeals Court on May 13.

A number of local and international human rights organizations strongly believe that the charges against Avaz Zeynalli are trumped-up and that he was arrested for his articles criticizing high-ranking state officials.

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