February 10th, 2011
We, media representatives and journalistic organizations, are concerned over the recent defamation charges brought against Khural newspaper and the court sanctions imposed on the newspaper

After the newspaper’s failure to pay 1000 AZN fine (imposed after a lawsuit brought by Azerbaijan Printing House in 2007), Narimanov District Court sent a warning to editor-in-chief Avaz Zeynalli. Then on February 3rd, after a 6-minute deliberation, the Court issued the newspaper with a 3,000 AZN fine relating to the lawsuit filed by singer Nushaba Alasgarli. The newspaper had filed an appeal against the Narimanov District Court decision, which had fined them 500 AZN after the lawsuit brought by the head of the Mass Media Development Support Fund. But the Appeals Court increased this fine tenfold and ruled for a 5,000 AZN fine. Moreover, Khural was fined 10,000 AZN in the lawsuit filed by President’s Office Head Ramiz Mehdiyev.
Some government officials are intolerant of criticism. The Mass Media Development Support Fund Executive Director should be more tolerant. Instead of fulfilling his duty by supporting mass media development, he is more interested in silencing newspapers through non-independent courts. Mechanisms of self-regulation should be implemented (i.e. experts should be allowed to assess defamation cases, and the newspaper can provide a retraction based on this statement).
In addition, we call on the Head of the Presidential Administration Ramiz Mehdiyev to withdraw his high-cost lawsuit against a small, low-budget newspaper. When one looks at western practices, it is clear that both ordinary citizens and governmental officials are criticized. Western practices do not accord special rights to state officials. Ramiz Mehdiyev can be criticized as an official, because he is a public figure acting on behalf of the state, and the people criticizing him are the citizens of the same state.
We are appealing to state officials and political figures, calling upon them to demonstrate tolerance towards journalists and newspapers, to put an end to the multiple court disputes, and implement the aforementioned self-regulation mechanisms.