Appeals court upholds criminal libel sentence of two journalists

New York, April 13, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a Baku Appeals Court decision today to uphold the convictions of two journalists with the independent weekly Nota Bene on charges of defaming Interior Minister Ramil Usubov in a series of articles that described corruption and infighting in the agency.

The court let stand a January trial court ruling that sentenced reporter Faramaz Novruzoglu to two years in prison and Editor-in-Chief Sardar Alibeili to 18 months of “corrective labor.” Their legal representatives were not present in court today because the hearing took place earlier than announced, Ilham Tumas, founder of Nota Bene, told the Azeri news Web site Mediaforum. He said Novruzoglu and Alibeili don’t know yet whether they will appeal to the Supreme Court.

Interior Minister Usubov has targeted opposition and independent journalists with at least six criminal libel suits involving critical articles, according to CPJ research. Usubov filed suit against Novruzoglu and Alibeili after Nota Bene published the series on his agency in December, the independent Turan news agency reported.

On January 30, Judge Muslim Aliyev of the Narimanovsky Court convicted the two journalists of criminal defamation. Novruzoglu was taken to a Baku prison immediately. Alibeili, whose sentence did not immediately begin in January, is to be given a state-assigned job and will be expected to contribute a portion of his salary to the government, according to local press reports and CPJ sources.

“We condemn this ruling against our colleagues Faramaz Novruzoglu and Sardar Alibeili, who have done nothing but report matters of public interest” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “As a high-ranking official, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov is subject to public scrutiny.”