Two journalists held for defaming the Prophet Muhammad

New York, November 17, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the arrest of two independent journalists in Azerbaijan over an article that authorities claim insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

Samir Sadagatoglu, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Senet, and reporter Rafiq Tagi, were detained after publishing an article on November 1 titled “Europe and Us.” Tagi, the author, suggested that unspecified Islamic values were blocking development in the oil-rich, Caspian Sea country, international media reported. The article referred to Islam as a cause of infighting and said the Prophet Muhammad had created only problems for countries in the region.

Tagi denied that he had slandered Islam or the Prophet. “There are no offensive words addressed to the Prophet,” the local news Web site Day quoted him as saying. “On the other hand, we do not live in a religious state,” Tagi added.

The Nasimi District Court in the capital Baku ordered Sadagatoglu and Tagi held for two months on November 15 while authorities investigate the case, international media said. If convicted of spreading national, ethnic, or religious hatred under Article 283 of the penal code, the journalists face between three and five years in prison, the online Russian news agency Rosbalt reported.

“While we recognize that some people in Azerbaijan may have been offended by these comments, nobody should be imprisoned for expressing his views,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call for the immediate release of Samir Sadagatoglu and Rafiq Tagi.”

Azer Hasret, director of the Journalists’ Trade Union, told CPJ the case was yet another example of the authorities using the courts to silence independent journalism.

After the article was published, Tagi received death threats forcing him and his family to leave their apartment and be placed under police protection. Sadagatoglu also reported receiving death threats, according to local and international press reports.