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RAN 53/09, 28 October 2009

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN protests the three-month prison sentences handed down to newspaper journalists Sardar Alibeili and Faramaz Nozruzoglu (Allahverdiyev) on defamation charges. International PEN is alarmed about the poor state of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Alibeili and Nozruzoglu, and all those currently detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Azerbaijan is a state party.

Sardar Alibeili and Faramaz Nozruzoglu (Allahverdiyev), editor-in-chief and journalist for the newspaper Nota respectively, were imprisoned on 8 October 2009, after the Court of Appeals upheld the sentence handed down by the Baku District Court in July 2009. In the same trial, journalist Ramiz Tagiyev was conditionally sentenced to six months of corrective labour, and in addition has to hand over part of his monthly income to the state during that time. The charges against all three, were filed by the chairman of the local government union Azadlyg Harakatchilari (Freedom Movement), who claims he was insulted in six articles published in Nota.

This is not the first time that Sardar Alibeili and Faramaz Nozruzoglu have been sentenced for defamation. Nozruzoglu was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment on 30 January 2007 on charges of criminal libel after Nota Bene (former name of Nota) published an article he had written concerning the Azerbaijani Interior Minister. Alibeili was also charged and sentenced to a levy on his salary for 18 months. Faramaz Nozruzoglu was released along with four other journalists under a Presidential pardon on 28 December 2007.

In mid February 2008 Faramaz Nozruzoglu reported receiving threatening phone calls, for his novel Girl’s Spring Tragedy, which was printed in Nota Bene after his release from prison.

The continued detention and convictions of these and other journalists indicates the persistent hostility towards independent and opposition media by the Azerbaijani authorities in a country where defamation and false charges are increasingly used to silence dissenting voices.

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