Statement Another critical newspaper fined as media crackdown continues

The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) strongly condemns the decision of the Yasamal District Court, issued on September 4, in a defamation case initiated by a son of Transport Minister, businessman Anar Mammadov against Gundam Khabar newspaper. The newspaper is ordered to pay damages of 10, 000 AZN to Mammadov. IRFS considers this decision as a suppression of critical media and reiterates that it is profoundly concerned with the abuse of criminal defamation law in Azerbaijan.,

IRFS reminds that a similar lawsuit filed by Anar Mammadov last year resulted in big fines (4,000 AZN for each) for Azadlig and Yeni Musavat newspapers.

IRFS reminds that the case against Gundam Khabar newspaper is a part of a broader practice. IRFS is deeply concerned about the use of defamation lawsuits to intimidate and silence criticism, opposition or dissent and have a chilling effect on the free flow of information in the country.

IRFS strongly believes that all criminal defamation laws violate the guarantee of freedom of expression. IRFS also notes that unduly harsh sanctions such as prison sentences are fines, violate the right to freedom of expression, particularly when the fines are extraordinary high as in the Gundam Khabar newspaper case. IRFS calls upon the Azerbaijani government and officials to be tolerant to criticisms of the media and refrain from suppressing the freedom of expression by means of exerting strong financial pressure. IRFS calls on President of Azerbaijan to use his power to stop attacks on press freedom.

IRFS calls on International organizations to demand from Azerbaijani government to put an end to the pressure on press and fulfill its obligations undertaken before international organizations.

Case description:

On September 4, 2012 Yasamal District Court presided by judge Tahir Ismayilov held a hearing on the lawsuit brought by Anar Mammadov against the Gundam Khabar newspaper under Article 147 of the Criminal Code (libel). The reason behind the lawsuit was a story published by the Olaylar (Events) information agency which read: “Judicial disputes started in 2009 in connection with the seizure of Yevlakh Bus Station, owned by Bahram Mammadov since 1998, have not ended yet. The area of the bus station was encircled by the fence in March of 2009 and buses have not been allowed in ever since. The ZQAN holding (this company is owned by transport minister Ziya Mammadov) started constructions here. The owner of the bus station and the land of 2 hectares, Bahram  Mammadov , twice appealed to Baku Economic Court #1. The court ruling ordering the suspension of construction works was ignored”.

According to Gundam Khabar founder and editor Shirin Jafarli, the newspaper published the above information based on Olaylar information agency and that information was shared by other mass media outlets as well. However the court ignored this fact and ruled for a big fine for the newspaper, which is already in critical financial position. In addition, the Anti-Corruption Office under the General Prosecutor’s Office has launched a criminal case against the newspaper under Article 213.2.2 (tax evasion) and 308.1 (abuse of power).

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