IRFS condemns Narimanov District Court’s January 23, 2012 decision to fine Xural newspaper editor-in-chief Avaz Zeynalli 50,000 AZN. The fine is based on a lawsuit filed by the General Director of Baltika-Baki LLC, Adam Tlekhuray.
The Court also ruled that a retraction and apology must be published by the newspaper.
The court process contained gross violations of the defendant’s rights. Specifically, Zeynalli was not present at the hearing, and his lawyer, Elchin Sadigov, was only informed about the decision on February 10, 2011, more than two weeks after the decision had been made. IRFS believes that the decision is part of the ongoing repression against Avaz Zeynalli and Khural newspaper.
Avaz Zeynalli, the editor-in-chief of Khural newspaper was arrested after a criminal case was launched against him on the basis of a complaint submitted by Azerbaijani MP Gular Ahmadova. In her complaint submitted on October 19, 2011, Ahmadova claimed that Zeynalli demanded money from her in return for not publishing compromising information. However, Avaz Zeynalli holds that Ahmadova was the one that approached him to offer money in exchange for loyalty to the authorities.
Zeynalli’s arrest is only the most egregious in a long list of pressures suffered by Khural newspaper over the last year. In September, Khural’s property was inventoried for its failure to pay court fines. The total fine included 10,000 AZN based on the lawsuit of Presidential Administration head Ramiz Mehdiyev, 5,000 AZN from the lawsuit of the chairman of the State Foundation to Support Mass Media Vugar Safarli, and 4,000 AZN based on singer Nushaba Alasgarli’s lawsuit. Unable to pay the fines, the newspaper appealed to the courts to request that the enforcement of the rulings be terminated.
Guided by the aforementioned facts, IRFS believes that all of these measures are aimed at silencing an independent newspaper and the responsibility for this lies with the country’s leadership. IRFS once again requests that the Azerbaijani authorities end pressure against free press and calls on state authorities to release Avaz Zeynalli and drop the false criminal charges launched against him and his newspaper.