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Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) resolutely condemns the sentencing of Khural newspaper chief editor Avaz Zeynalli to 9 years’ in jail, for bribery, extortion and tax evasion, charges that organization believes to have been fabricated. IRFS considers the 16-month detention of Avaz Zeynalli and today’s verdict to be a breach of international standards guaranteeing freedom of expression and calls for his immediate release.
“Today is another black day in a terrible year for press freedom and freedom of expression in Azerbaijan”, says IRFS Chair Emin Huseynov. “Zeynalli’s conviction is part of broader strategy to force self-censorship and plant fear among journalists and media outlets ahead of October’s presidential elections”, Huseynov said.
The fact that former parliamentarian Gular Ahmadova, whose lawsuit over alleged bribery end up with Zeynalli’s conviction, was later arrested for involvement in scandalous bribery case and then publicly denied suing Zeynalli, and also the court’s failure to prove the charges filed against the journalist show that Avaz Zeynalli was arrested on political motives and that high ranking government officials are behind his arrest.
IRFS protests the sentence handed to Avaz Zeynalli, as violating international standards guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression. IRFS is calling for his immediate release and for the charges against him to be dropped.
IRFS is furthermore gravely concerned by the rising number of Azerbaijani journalists facing lengthy prison terms on fabricated charges. IRFS considers that using the criminal justice system to punish journalists for freely expressed views is contrary to Azerbaijan’s constitution and international obligations, and has a chilling effect on journalists throughout the country.
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 therefore calls on the president to use his power and put an end to pressure on freedom of expression.
IRFS calls on international human rights organizations to show a strong reaction to the illegal decision for 9 years imprisonment of the journalist.