Eight journalists now behind bars in Azerbaijan

New York, November 7, 2007—The editor-in-chief of a pro-government daily paper in Azerbaijan has been sentenced to prison on criminal defamation and insult charges, making him the eighth journalist in the country currently serving jail time. This imprisonment cements Azerbaijan position at the top of the list of countries jailing journalists in Europe and Central Asia.

Nazim Guliyev, head of Ideal, was given two-and-a-half years on Tuesday in Baku’s Nasimi District Court.

“We are deeply concerned by the imprisonment of yet another journalist in Azerbaijan,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Jailing Nazim Guliyev on defamation charges is an unacceptable response to his investigative work. We call on the Azerbaijani government to decriminalize defamation so that the country can join the ranks of democratizing societies, and to relinquish its disgraceful position as Europe and Central Asia’s leading jailer of journalists.”

Ramiz Zeynalov, head of Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry Traffic Police Department, filed a lawsuit against Guliyev after Ideal published two articles on widespread corruption within the department in May and August, local press reported. The trial began on October 29 and Guliyev did not have a lawyer, the director of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety Emin Huseynov told CPJ. The editor did not write the articles.

Guliyev’s sentence comes a week after the Azerbaijani Court of Heavy Crimes sentenced Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of now-shuttered Gündalik Azarbaycan and Realny Azerbaijan independent newspapers, to an eight-and-a-half-year prison term.