INSTITUTE FOR REPORTERS’ FREEDOM AND SAFETY STATEMENT

March 7th, 2008
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns Yasamal District Court Judge Sudaba Mammedova’s decision to imprison “Azadlig” Newspaper Editor-in-Chief Ganimat Zahid for four years. 

Today in the Yasamal District Court, Judge Sudaba Mammedova convicted Zahid under article 127.2.3 and 221 (hooliganism and intentional infliction of minor bodily harm). IRFS believes that this verdict, which was read in a secretly held court hearing, is yet another indication of Azerbaijani government’s animosity towards Zahid. According to Zahid’s wife, G. Zahid was secretly brought to court at 11 a.m. and the verdict was read. Relatives of the journalist, the journalist’s lawyers and journalists were not informed about this.  
Throughout the entire course of the trial, during which no evidence to prove Zahid’s guilt was introduced, only one of the defense’s numerous petitions were fulfilled. Another provocation was also conducted against Zahid in February 2005. Several days later “Monitor” Journal Editor-in-Chief Elmar Huseynov was murdered. In 2006 Zahid’s brother Sakit Zahidov was imprisoned on spurious charges of drug possession, and in the same year Azadlig Newspaper lost its building to the government through a calculated and unfair court trial.  Between 2006 and 2007, as result of numerous unjust, prejudiced court verdicts adopted on lawsuits put forth against the newspaper by government officials, over 200,000 AZN in fines was levied “Azadlig.” Over the last three years “Azadlig” Newspaper employees have also been subjected to numerous attacks, threats, and even attempted murders. Despite this, until his arrest, Zahid continued to lead “Azadlig” Newspaper, which publishes some of the most critical articles about Azerbaijan’s leaders and high-ranking government officials.  
IRFS believes that the government of Azerbaijan is trying to incapacitate the opposition press and instill fear in journalists before the upcoming presidential elections. The arrest of G. Zahid, and other similar actions show the Azerbaijani government’s ill will towards the press and its influence over the court system. By throwing Ganimat Zahid in prison, the government has once again shown that is has no intention of fulfilling its obligations in the areas of human rights or press freedom.
IRFS calls on the international community to call for Azerbaijan’s government to release Zahid and Azerbaijan’s other wrongfully imprisoned journalists; Eynulla Fatullayev, Sakit Zahidov, and Mushfig Huseynov. IRFS also appeals to the European Council, asking that in light of the critical situation here a special rapportuer on political prisoners be appointed in the near future and sent to Azerbaijan to investigate the situation.  
And IRFS calls on Azerbaijan’s government to immediately release Ganimat Zahid, as well as Azerbaijan’s other wrongfully imprisoned journalists, and to fulfill its international obligations in the areas of human rights and press freedom.