The Azerbaijani Press Council and the OSCE Baku Office met today with representatives of the presidential administration, parliament, and the media to discuss the issue of media defamation, a highly contentious issue in Azerbaijan.
The conference on the decriminalization of defamation involved OSCE Special Representative on Media, Dunja Mijatovic, who is visiting Baku to discuss the issue of criminal prosecutions of journalists with President Ilham Aliyev and other officials.
Mijatovic’s position on this issue was identified during the course of her statement where she clearly stated that journalists should be professional in their criticism of officials, while public figures need to be more tolerant of criticism.
She was responding to a statement by Ali Hasanov, head of the Presidential Administration’s socio-political department, who suggested that journalists should not be exempt from criminal liability for defamation.
The Head of OSCE Baku Office Bilge Cankorel said that the issue of criminal prosecution of journalists should be excluded from the draft law on defamation that is to be prepared in conjunction with the Press Council. This measure will ensure the sustainability of freedom of speech, the cornerstone of any democratic society.
IREX legal expert Alesker Mammadli said that the bill was drafted in the spirit of the European Convention on Human Rights and the legal framework of the European Court. It can protect journalists from prosecution, and abolishes the arrest of journalists under articles 147 and 148 of the Penal Code. However, he noted that the decriminalization of laws on freedom of speech does not give a full guarantee. "There are other constitutional and statutory limitations, which can be used in the future for the prosecution of journalists," he said.
The draft law on defamation will be discussed in the autumn session of Parliament.