Azerbaijani reporter given one-year sentence


New York, December 10, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about a one-year suspended sentence given today to Ilgar Nasibov, Nakhchivan correspondent for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Nasibov was released today after being held on a separate defamation charge since last week.

An appellate court in the western Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan dropped last week’s against Nasibov and ordered his release; simultaneously, a city court sentenced the journalist to a one-year suspended sentence on charges of defaming a university official in a newspaper article he said he did not write, according to CPJ sources. Malahet Nasibova, the journalist’s wife, told CPJ he plans to appeal the case.

“We are concerned that Nasibov has been convicted on charges that are based on an article he says he neither wrote nor published,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We urge the Azerbaijani court to dismiss this sentence on appeal.”

Nasibov was arrested on Thursday and sentenced to 90 days in jail on charges of defaming Nakhchivan city Deputy Police Chief Ershad Ibrahimov in a letter to President Ilham Aliyev. Nasibov was tried without counsel and imprisoned in Boyuk Duz jail in Nakhchivan, where he was kept until today, the Baku-based Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS) reported.

Today, an appellate court in Nakhchivan announced that Ibrahimov had retracted his lawsuit and released Nasibov. Meanwhile, the city court handed him the separate one-year suspended sentence on a charge of defaming Nakhchivan State University rector and parliamentarian Isa Habibbeyli and two university employees, Nasibov’s wife told CPJ. The article in question was published in a newspaper called Azadlyg and could not immediately be obtained by CPJ.

“It is an absolutely fabricated case,” IRFS Director Emin Huseynov told CPJ. “Nasibov did not write any articles for Azadlyg newspaper—he works for Radio Azadlyg [the Azeri title of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty], not Azadlyg newspaper. Although Nasibov declared his affiliation many times, the court nevertheless handed him a suspended sentence with no evidence in support of the charge.”

The journalist told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that the judge said to him: “This year is a probation period for you, and during this time, you can’t distribute false information or be involved in any illegal or inflammatory activity. So you should work in a constructive and objective way. If you do that, you shouldn’t have any problems.”

Habibbeyli’s lawsuit stems from an article titled “PKK’s hands extend into Nakhchivan,” published in Azadlyg in May 2006. State prosecutors claim the notes for the article were found on Nasibov’s computer, which police officers seized from his home after his Thursday arrest, IRFS reported today.

Despite today’s release of Nasibov, Azerbaijan nevertheless remains the leading jailer of journalists in Europe and Central Asia and has the fifth-highest number of reporters behind bars worldwide. It is also one of the world’s top backsliders on press freedom, according to CPJ research.