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The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety calls upon the Azerbaijani government to immediately release Avaz Zeynalli and drop all charges against him. IRFS is deeply troubled by Zeynalli’s detention and his possible imprisonment under the charges of extortion brought by Gular Akhmedova, deeply soaked in top corruption scam. As the video footage capturing ex-MP demanding a bribe of $ 1 million in exchange for a parliamentary seat spans Internet, TV, radio and print media, Zeynalli’s faces up to 12 years’ imprisonment accused of trying to extort money from Akhmedova.
“Zeynalli’s nearly year-long detention underscores the disdain of the authorities for the freedom of the media. This is a time when we must all urgently work towards release and full rehabilitation of Zeynalli and breaking the vicious circle of oppression of free expression ”, said IRFS Chair, Emin Huseynov.
Next week IRFS is launching a national petition campaign for the immediate release and full rehabilitation of Avaz Zeynalli. IRFS urges the authorities to release Avaz Zeynalli and to compensate him for the harm suffered.
Khural newspaper chief editor Avaz Zeynalli was arrested on October 28, 2011 by the Anti-Corruption Department, based on a trumped-up lawsuit filed by Guler Ahmedova, under the Article 311.3.3 (taking large bribes) and 311.3.4 (extortion of bribe) of the Criminal Code. Nearly a year later, a plaintiff herself becomes a central figure in the corruption scam. Ahmedova insisted that Zeynalli extorted bribe from her, referring to the audio recording as evidence; however such a recording has never been presented to the defendant.
The Prosecutor General’s Office has launched a criminal case under Article 178.3.2 (Fraud) in connection with the said video footage. Following the scandal, Ahmedova was expelled from the Political Council of the New Azerbaijan Party. She also appealed to the Azerbaijani Parliament, voluntarily renouncing her mandate. Her request was forwarded to the Central Election Commission, which in turn abolished her mandate on October 3rd. Moreover, Sevinj Babayeva, who acted as agent in the bribe deal, was recently arrested.
The above-mentioned recent developments should be followed without delay by the release and rehabilitation of Avaz Zeynalli, says IRFS and calls upon the authorities to abandon their tactics of intimidation and harassment to stifle peaceful dissent.