The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns Azerbaijan’s government for the decision adopted today against “Bizim Yol” Newspaper correspondent Mushfig Huseynov.
In the Grave Crimes Court today Judge Jamal Ramazanov adopted a decision to sentence Mushfig Huseynov to 6 years of imprisonment on the basis of Article 311 (taking a bribe) of the Republic of Azerbaijan’s Criminal Code. In addition to this, Huseynov is forbidden from working as a journalist for two additional years after he is released from prison.
The Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety is convinced that the verdict adopted by Judge Ramazanov is unfair, and that Ramanzov based his verdict on a political order. During the court trial, IRFS observed that none of the petitions put forth by the defense were fulfilled. In addition to this, numerous procedural violations and falsifications on the part of the prosecution were revealed during the trial. All of this causes IRFS to conclude that the charges against Huseynov are spurious. IRFS believes that Huseynov is the victim of political provocation, as part of campaign carried out by the government to damage the reputation of journalists in the eyes of the local and international community. In time leading up to Huseynov’s imprisonment, Azerbaijan was to observe National Press Day. Within the framework of this holiday, high-ranking officials claimed with completely certainty that all imprisoned journalists would be pardoned. However no pardon decree was given on National Press Day, 22 July 2007. At this point the presidential administration announced that President Ilham Aliyev was away on vacation, and they he would most likely sign a decree on pardon upon his return. However, in lieu of this, on 24 July 2007, two days after National Press Day 2007, the plot of arrest Mushfig Huseynov was executed. One day after Husenyov was arrested Ilham Aliyev returned from his vacation and signed no pardon decree. Several days after Huseynov was arrested his right to presumption of innocence was blatantly violated; he was declared a criminal on national TV, and all TV channels began and a large-scale campaign of Black PR against the independent and opposition press.
Based on observations made throughout the investigation and trial for Mushfig Huseynov, IRFS believes that none of Mushfig Huseynov’s acts were criminal, and that it is completely unfounded to prosecute the journalist under article 311 of the Republic of Azerbaijan’s Criminal Code, as he is not an “official.” It is absurd to accuse a journalist of receiving 3,500 bribe, when this person has been drawn into the situation through criminal means, during which officials from Azerbaijan’s government abuse their power to serve their own interests.
Azerbaijan is considered on of the most corrupt countries in the world, ranked 156 according to Transparency International. IRFS would also like to recall up until the end of December Azerbaijan was ranked fifth in world for the number of journalists imprisoned, behind only China, Cuba, Eritrea and Iran. The decree on pardon that was given around New Years, and resulted in the release of five imprisoned journalists, was intended simply to mislead the local and international, but has in fact proved that the government of Azerbaijan has no intention of completely providing freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.
IRFS believe that today’s absurd court verdict proved that the government of Azerbaijan will continue its repression of freedom of speech. IRFS also believes that other journalists whose cases will soon be considered the courts could also be imprisoned.
IRFS calls for Azerbaijan’s government to put an end to the persecution of journalists and to immediately release Mushfig Huseynov, Eynulla Fatullayev, Sakit Zahidov and Ganimat Zahid.
IRFS also appeals to the international community to put pressure on Azerbaijan’s government and to demand that the government fulfill its international obligations in the areas of freedom of expression and human rights.