Appeals court refuses to hear Zakhidov defense witnesses

New York, December 7, 2006—The Azerbaijan Court of Appeals should reverse a ruling excluding defense witnesses in the appeal of Sakit Zakhidov and release the ailing journalist, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today .

The court ruled Monday not to hear witnesses for the defense or further investigate the case against Zakhidov, a prominent reporter and satirist for the Baku daily opposition newspaper Azadlyg. Judge Latif Nabiyev gave no reason for his ruling, according to CPJ sources. The appeal is due to be heard December 15, according to the independent Russian online newspaper Kavkazsky Uzel.

Police arrested Zakhidov on June 23 on charges of drug possession with intent to sell. On October 4, the Nasimi District Court in Baku sentenced Zakhidov to three years in prison on the lesser charge of drug use.

Defense lawyer Vugar Khasayev had requested that key witnesses, including a taxi driver who saw police arrest Zakhidov, be allowed to testify. He also asked that a new police investigation be held, according to local press reports.

“We condemn this ruling which violates Zakhidov’s right to due process,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on Azerbaijani authorities to release Zakhidov pending appeal so that he can receive treatment for a heart condition.”

Local journalists have expressed concern for Zakhidov’s health. “He has lost a lot of weight, looks very weak, and barely speaks,” Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety Director Emin Huseynov told CPJ. Zakhidov suffers from a serious heart condition but is not receiving treatment for his illness in prison, sources close to the trial said.

Zakhidov is not permitted to receive visitors. On Monday, Nabiyev also rejected a request from Zakhidov’s wife, Rena, to visit her husband in prison. Zakhidov’s colleagues plan to appeal to the International Committee of the Red Cross for assistance, the local news Web site Day reported. Zakhidov was one of 134 journalists in jail worldwide, according to the latest annual census published by CPJ. To read more: