On August 30 the Narimanov district court held a hearing on the lawsuit filed by the imprisoned chief editor of Khural newspaper Avaz Zeynalli against the Press Council. Judge Mezahir Sadiqov presided over the hearing.
The proceeding began with the judge advising the parties to reconcile. Both Zeynalli and the defendant said they are not against it. Still the defendant’s representative Shamsaddin Aliyev said they do not accept the lawsuit and deem it unfounded. In his turn, Zeynalli insisted on defending his case.
As a next step, the plaintiff’s petitions were presented to the court. In his petitions, Zeynalli requested that board members of the Press Council should be summoned and questioned in connection with the case, and the articles that were the reason why the Press Council had labeled Khural as a ‘racketeer newspaper’ should undergo expert examination. After a prompt deliberation, the judge said the plaintiff himself is ought to invite the defendant’s board members to the process. Then the judge adjourned the proceeding until September 2, saying that the second petition would be considered at the next hearing.
Background: In 2011 the Press Council issued a decision to include the Khural newspaper in the “blacklist”. Coming one month before the editor’s arrest, the decision was deemed politically motivated and Zeynalli filed a lawsuit with the court against the Press Council, requesting revocation of the PC decision and compensation for the damage caused to his business reputation. The lawsuit was left unconsidered by the decision of Judge Mezahir Sadiqov of the Narimanov District Court. The decision was upheld by the court of appeal. The case was then sent back for reconsideration by the Supreme Court.
Avaz Zeynalli was arrested on October 28, 2011 following a lawsuit brought by former MP Gular Ahmadova. The Anti-Corruption Office launched a criminal case against Zeynalli under article 311.3.3 (taking a large bribe) and article 311.3.4 (extortion) of the Criminal Code. Zeynalli was later charged under article 306 (contempt of court) and article 213.1 (tax evasion). On 13 February 2013 the public prosecutor requested 11 years imprisonment for Zeynalli. On 12 March 2013 the Baku Grave Crimes Court convicted and sentenced the journalist to nine years in prison. In addition, the court imposed a 4,076 AZN fine on Zeynalli. The decision was upheld by Baku Appeals Court on May 13.
A wide range 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.