VIENNA, 21 April 2009 – The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, welcomed today the pardoning by Azerbaijan's Parliament of two imprisoned journalists and the release of a third by a court, and expressed hope that the country will soon bring its handling of defamation cases into line with European standards, as suggested recently by President Ilham Aliyev.
On 9 April, Mirza Sakit Zahidov, a prominent satirical poet and a journalist with the oppositional newspaper Azadliq was released, and the libel conviction of the Tezadlar weekly editor Asif Marzili was annulled. On 11 April, Ali Hasanov, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Ideal was also released. The three had been serving prison terms on different charges.
In a letter sent yesterday to President Aliyev, Haraszti noted with satisfaction the president's statement that described the new libel conviction as not in line with European standards and urged avoiding imprisonment of journalists in the future.
"Your positive intentions could only bear fruit if they are transformed into a legal reform," Haraszti continued. He proposed that Azerbaijan undertake a renewed effort to decriminalize defamation.
In the letter, Haraszti also expressed his concern regarding two recently passed laws, on the mass media and on television and radio broadcasting. He asked President Aliyev to send the still unsigned Broadcasting Law back to Parliament for a review so it could be adapted to international standards and commitments.
"I hope that the recent positive trend of releasing journalists would soon affect also the fate of the remaining imprisoned journalists – Eynulla Fatullayev, Ganimat Zahidov and Mushfiq Huseynov," Haraszti said.