IRFS EXPRESSES PROTEST AGAINST EDITORIAL ARTICLE RUN IN CANADIAN NEWSPAPER

July 10th, 2008
Today the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety wrote an open letter to the Montreal-based newspaper called the Gazette “to express extreme protest against the editorial entitled ‘Internal enemies of Azerbaijan are more dangerous than foreign one (link),’ which was written by Ahmad Mehdi and published in the Gazette on 7 July 2008.”

According to IRFS, Mr. Mehdi’s article is a gross misrepresentation of the real situation in Azerbaijan and contains inexcusable errors.

IRFS notes in its letter that while Mehdi claims the human rights and democracy situation are improving in Azerbaijan, reports from international organizations like the Council of Europe, U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch indicate that the exact opposite is actually true.

With regards to Mehdi’s claims about “Azadlig” Newspaper journalist Agil Khalil, IRFS notes that Mehdi “does not even cite the proper dates when referring to Khalil’s case, showing he doesn’t even have a rudimentary grasp of the most basic facts.” Mehdi also refers to the people who beat Khalil on 22 February as representatives of the Ministry of Interior, when in reality the two men, Akif Chovdarov and Dagbeyi Allahveridyev, are officials from the National Security Ministry.

In addition IRFS notes that, that Mehdi’s claim that Khalil received 15,000 USD from a political opposition leader to claim government officials stabbed him is “completely unsubstantiated and conforms neither to the official government line on this case – that he was stabbed by his former male-lover, nor to what local and international human rights organizations believe happened – that he was stabbed by people affiliated with the two high-ranking National Security Ministry officers in attempt to silence him about the 22 February incident.”

Mehdi also touts the investigation as professional, when in reality two lawsuits are pending against the investigation for use of force (Khalil says he had his fingers slammed in a door, he was interrogated for 19 hours, and the investigation offered a bribe to drop his case against the National Security Ministry officials who beat him on 22 February) and the premature dissemination of investigation material.

At the most fundamental level, Mr. Mehdi reports that Azerbaijan’s presidential elections will take place in November, when in reality they will be held in October.

According to IRFS, Mehdi’s editorial is now being misrepresented by the pro-government press in Azerbaijan. For example, one website — Versiya.az, citing The Gazette, has written, “The newspaper claims that ‘Azadlig’ Newspaper correspondent Aqil Khalil received a 15,000 USD honorarium from Popular Front Party Chairman Ali Karimli after the premeditated provocation.”

IRFS emphasizes that it fully supports Mr. Mehdi’s right to occupy and express his own position on any topic, however it is unprofessional, unethical and just blatantly wrong to present completely inaccurate and unsubstantiated information as fact, be it in an editorial piece or formal article. IRFS is “perplexed by how such a slanderous piece of writing could make its way into The Gazette, which according to the publication’s own site has ‘award-winning editorial content.’”

IRFS hopes that The Gazette will attempt to rectify this situation by publishing the letter IRFS has sent and/or by conducting its own investigation into this matter.

IRFS encourages other international and local organizations to express their views on Mehdi’s editorial by emailing The Gazette at letters@thegazette.canwest.com, sending a fax to 1- 514-987-2639, or mailing a letter to: Montreal Gazette, Letters To The Editor, 1010 Ste. Catherine St. West, suite 200, Montreal, QC, H3B 5L1

(The complete text of this letter can be viewed in English at the end of this press release.)