International organizations condemn conviction of journalist Avaz Zeynalli

March 14th, 2013

The Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders condemned the 9 year jail sentence handed down to Khural newspaper editor Avaz Zeynalli. The Committee to Protect Journalists sent an open letter to the Azerbaijani President, in which expressed its profound concern over deteriorating climate of press freedom and human rights situation in Azerbaijan.Amnesty International issued a statement on the journalist’s imprisonment, calling on Azerbaijani authorities to ensure a prompt and fair retrial for the journalist, ‘after a Baku court sentenced him to nine years in prison in an unfair trial on charges that appear to have been politically motivated’.

“The conviction of independent journalist Avaz Zeynali is symptomatic of the government’s continued repression of independent journalists, civil society activists and non-governmental organizations,” further read the statement.

Reporters Without Borders also condemned the nine-year jail sentence passed on the journalist in its statement: “The prosecution case was based on fabricated charges and the verdict had all the hallmarks of a political reprisal and warning to other media ahead of next October’s presidential election”.

“If the judicial system wants to prove its independence, it should overturn this conviction on appeal” Reporters Without Borders added.

Background: Avaz Zeynalli, was arrested on October 28, 2011 following a lawsuit brought by former MP Gular Ahmadova on October 19, 2011. The Anti-Corruption Office launched a criminal case against Zeynalli under Articles 311.3.3 (taking a large bribe) and 311.3.4 (extortion) of the Criminal Code. He later faced new charged under Articles 306 (contempt of court) and 213.1 (tax evasion).  On 13 February 2013 the public prosecutor asked the court to sentence Zeynalli to 11 years in prison. On March 12 the Baku Grave Crimes Court passed the final verdict on the journalist, sentencing him to nine years in jail.

A number of local and international human rights organizations strongly believe that the charges against Avaz Zeynalli are trumped-up and that he was arrested for his articles criticizing high-ranking state officials.