Independent journalists convicted for libeling president’s brother

New York, May 22, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned by the Tuesday, May 20, conviction of two journalists from the opposition weekly newspaper Mukhalifet on charges of criminally libeling the brother of President Heydar Aliyev.

On May 20, the Yasamal District Court in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, found Mukhalifet editor-in-chief Rovshan Kabirli and journalist Yashar Agazade guilty of libeling member of parliament Jalal Aliyev, who is also Aliyev’s brother, and sentenced them to five months in prison each.

The journalists were immediately amnestied and released but are now legally considered convicted criminals due to the guilty verdict.

The case against the Mukhalifet journalists stems from an April 12 article by Agazade titled “Azerbaijan’s Grain Mafia,” which mentioned Jalal Aliyev and also featured his photograph.

Kabirli told CPJ in a telephone interview today that Jalal Aliyev filed the criminal libel lawsuit on April 23, eleven days after the article was published in Mukhalifet.

“We are very concerned that politicians continue to use criminal libel lawsuits to suppress critical reporting in the media,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Journalists should never face prison sentences for their work, and the country should decriminalize the libel law as soon as possible.”