INSTITUTE FOR REPORTERS’ FREEDOM AND SAFETY STATEMENT

July 15th, 2008
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety condemns the Nasimi District Court decision adopted today to recognize Sergey Strekalin as the person who stabbed “Azadlig” Newspaper correspondent Agil Khalil on 13 March 2008, and to punish Strekalin

Today, Judge Shahin Abdullayev found Streklin guilty of both intentional infliction of minor bodily harm (from the 13 March incident) and possession of a narcotic (from a separate and unrelated incident), but sentenced him to only 1 year and six months of imprisonment. The maximum prison sentence that could have been imposed is five years.

IRFS believes that the adoption of such a verdict is really an attempt to conceal and protect the people who are really behind the stabbing of Khalil, and a continuation of the long-standing government black PR campaign against Khalil. 

Neither the trial, nor the investigation, into this case was conducted in a professional or fair manner. Throughout the investigation and the trial, Khalil repeatedly said he did not know Sergey Streklin and Steklin did not stab him. In addition, a list of telephone calls and printouts of text messages supposedly sent from A. Khalil’s telephone to Sergey Strekalin was sent to the investigation by the National Security Ministry’s Anti-Terror Center and lacks a stamp from the “Azercell” Company or any other authenticating markings that would prove that the information originated within the company not the National Security Ministry ifself. Khalil was also interrogated for 19 hours in connection with the 13 March 2008 stabbing and the investigators used force against him. All of the motions put forth by Khalil’s lawyer during the trial were rejected.

Another interesting aspect of this entire calamity is that on 4 April 2008, prior to 7 April, when Stekalin was first presented to society in a widely broadcast video (prepared by the Republic of Azerbaijan’s Prosecutor’s Office and broadcast local TV channels) as Khalil’s former boyfriend, “Azadlig” Newspaper Director Azer Ahmedov conducted an emergency conference and forewarned the press that such video footage would soon be shown. Ahmedov correctly noted that a person named Sergey is involved, and said that Khalil had been blackmailed by the investigation. According to Ahmedov, investigator told Khalil, “Either publicly claim that one of your colleagues from ‘Azadlig’ Newspaper stabbed you, or we will broadcast video-footage that will depict you as a homosexual (this is mostly frown upon in Azerbaijan).”

IRFS recalls that on 9 April 2008, during a press a conference in Azerbaijan, OSCE Special Representative on Media Freedom Miklos Haraszti declared that he had personally met with Khalil’s mother Khurman Khalilova. Khalilova told Haraszti that Investigation Department Chief Investigator Ali Guliyev came to their region, Kurdamir, and put certain demands on her and her family, saying if they did not obey these demands, disgraceful video footage about their son would be broadcast on national TV. Khalilova also reported that bribes were offered to the family by the investigation.

Today’s verdict is a perfect example of yet another case in Azerbaijan in which the people truly responsible for harming a journalist have gotten off with complete impunity. To date not a single person has been held responsible for an attack on a journalist. In a related case, there is photo and video showing that National Security Ministry Officers Dagbeyi Allahverdiyev and Akif Chovdarov beat Khalil on 22 February 2008, but these people are not even being prosecuted.  

IRFS believes that today’s verdict violates Articles 8 (violation of private and family life) and 6 (right to fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In light of what is written above, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety calls on the government of Azerbaijan to overturn the verdict adopted today, to take disciplinary measures against Judge Abdullayev, and to reinvestigate the stabbing of Agil Khalil.  In addition, IRFS calls on the international community to compel Azerbaijan’s government to prevent instances of injustice against journalists and, if necessary, to institute sanctions against the government.