The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) resolutely condemns the unfounded one-year prison sentence for defamation handed down today against “Tezadlar” Newspaper Chief Editor Asif Merzili and the six-month corrective labor sentence issued for Merzili’s colleague, journalist Zumrud Mammedova.
Merzili and Mammedova received these sentences today in the Yasamal District Court, in a hearing chaired by Tahir Ismayilov, on the basis of a lawsuit put forth by Azerbaijan International University Director Elshad Abdullayev. Abdullayev’s lawsuit was based on articles 147 and 148 of Azerbaijan’s Criminal Code (defamation and libel).
With the imprisonment of Merzili, there are now seven wrongfully imprisoned journalists in Azerbaijan (Sakit Zahidov, Eynulla Fatullayev, Ganimat Zahid, Mushfig Huseynov, Novruzali Mammedov, Ali Hasanov).
IRFS believes that the imprisonment of Merzili shows that the government campaign against freedom of expression continues and is becoming more severe. IRFS also notes that the imprisonment of Merzili occurred on the day that Council of Europe special rapporteurs Andres Herkel and Jevgenia Jikova arrived in Azerbaijan and sends a message of resistance against important democratic reforms like the decriminalization of defamation.
IRFS calls for the immediate release of all seven of Azerbaijan’s wrongfully imprisoned journalists and the criminal prosecution of journalists in connection with their professional work. In addition, IRFS calls on the international community to condemn the Azeri government’s war against freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.