President Aliyev pardons two imprisoned journalists

New York, October 17, 2001—CPJ welcomes the release from prison of El’mar Guseynov, founder of the independent Russian-language weekly Bakinskiy Bul’var, and Shahbaz Huduoglu, editor-in-chief of the independent weekly Milletin Sesi.

On October 16, CPJ sent a letter to President Heidar Aliyev protesting the cases against the journalists, who were found guilty in September of defaming government officials and sentenced to six months in prison. Both Bakinskiy Bul’var and Milletin Sesi were shut down by the court.

The Court of Appeals in Baku was scheduled to hear Guseynov and Huduoglu’s cases today, according to local CPJ sources.

Instead, President Aliyev signed a pardon to release the two in honor of the 10th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s independence. The pardon came in response to numerous appeals for the journalists’ release received by his office, according to Leyla Yunus, chairperson of the Azerbaijani press group the Committee to Protect Imprisoned Journalists and Freedom of Expression.

The pardon, however, does not reverse the guilty verdict against Guseynov and Huduoglu, and both Bakinskiy Bul’var and Milletin Sesi remain closed, according to local CPJ sources.

“CPJ welcomes Guseynov and Huduoglu’s release from prison” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “However, we hope that President Aliyev will also ensure that the criminal cases against the journalists are dropped immediately, and that Bakinskiy Bul’var and Milletin Sesi can reopen.”

In a phone interview soon after his release, Guseynov told CPJ, “We will now fight to reopen our newspapers….We will start tomorrow because journalists that worked for these newspapers are now jobless and we cannot write.”