Statement: Free Zeynalli, stop attacks on media freedom

February 14th, 2013

Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) strongly denounces the 16-month pre-trial detention of Khural newspaper chief editor Avaz Zeynalli and calls on the government for his immediate release and rehabilitation. IRFS resolutely condemns the public prosecutor’s request for 11-year jail sentence for Avaz Zeynalli, and considers this move as another calculated attack on media freedom amid pre-election crackdown. IRFS is dismayed that the charges have not been dropped against journalist immediately after main plaintiff in Zeynalli’s case, former MP Gular Ahmadova, was yesterday taken into custody in connection with involvement in top corruption scam.

IRFS is deeply troubled by the fact that Zeynalli has been held in custody for 16 months, without any grounded evidence, solely based on the complaint of Ahmadova. IRFS calls on the government to compensate Zeynalli for his arbitrary arrest and detention and the violations of his right to freedom of expression.

“Authorities must release Zeynalli without any further delay. Zeynalli’s trial is reinforcing Azerbaijan’s reputation as one of the world’s most restrictive countries for freedom of speech and the press”, said IRFS Chair Emin Huseynov.

Less than a year after accusing Zeynalli of bribery and extortion, Ahmadova herself was found involved in a scandalous bribery case, in which she asked for $ 1 million to guarantee a seat in the parliament for one of the candidates. The criminal case launched on the fact resulted in a court decision yesterday to sentence Ahmadova to 3 months in pretrial detention on charges of embezzlement and concealment of a grave crime.

IRFS recalls that in an interview with one of the local newspapers on January 11, 2013, Gular Ahmadova denied the claims that Avaz Zeynalli was arrested after her complaint. She underlined that she is only a witness in this case, not a plaintiff. All of these facts show that the criminal case instituted against Zeynalli is fabricated and should therefore be canceled.

The right to freedom of expression and information is guaranteed and protected by the provisions of international instruments, and treaties signed and ratified by the Government of Azerbaijan, notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 19, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 19, and Council of Europe Convention on Human Rights, Article 10.

IRFS reiterates its demand that the government immediately and unconditionally release journalist Avaz Zeynalli, compensate Zeynalli for his arbitrary arrest and detention and the violations of his right to freedom of expression. IRFS urges human rights organizations to take more aggressive stance on the journalist’s case.