New York, March 2, 2006—A judge in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, has convicted Boyuk Millat Editor-in-Chief Samir Adygozalov of criminal libel and insult and sentenced him to one year in prison, according to local press reports.
Adygozalov was immediately taken into custody after the verdict was read in Nizami District Court on February 23. The editor was convicted in connection with a September 15 article headlined “Rector-Armenian,” which accused the rector of Baku State University, Abel Magarramov, of being an ethnic Armenian and improperly using university funds to support the Armenian diaspora, according to the Baku newspaper Zerkalo. Magarramov won a seat in parliament in November 2005.
Ascribing Armenian heritage to someone is considered a slur in Azerbaijan, where relations with neighboring Armenia are very poor due to the decade-long Armenian occupation of the western Azerbaijani province of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Magarramov has the right to seek redress in civil courts, but we are gravely concerned that Soviet-era laws are being used to send a journalist to jail,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on President Ilham Aliyev to replace these outdated laws with civil statutes that are in accord with international standards.”
Aflatun Amasov, chairman of the Media Council, an organization that mediates conflicts between the Azerbaijani government and media, said Magarramov’s political opponents made photocopies of the September 15 article and distributed it to voters ahead of the parliamentary elections, the independent news agency Turan reported.
Representatives of the Boyuk Millat (Great Nation) nationalist party—which is affiliated with the newspaper—criticized the prison sentence and said Adygozalov was willing to publish a retraction of the accusations made in the article, Turan reported.