Journalist slammed with 10 years in prison for alleged treason

New York, June 25, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply troubled by a Baku court’s decision on Tuesday to convict the editor of a small, minority newspaper on a treason charge and to sentence him to 10 years in prison. Novruzali Mamedov, editor of now-defunct Talyshi Sado (Voice of the Talysh), was tried in closed-door proceedings that began in March.

Judge Shakir Alekserov of the Court for Grave Crimes read the verdict in the absence of Mamedov’s defense lawyer, relatives, and the press, according to Leila Yunus, director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy.

A secretary for the newspaper, Elman Quliyev, was convicted under the same charge and sentenced to six years in prison.

“We condemn the heavy prison sentence handed to Novruzali Mamedov after a closed trial in the absence of defense counsel,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Authorities should make evidence against Mamedov public, and Azerbaijan should work to remedy, not aggravate, its record of jailing journalists on trumped-up charges.”

Mamedov, 66, an ethnic Talysh, was convicted of treason under Article 247 of Azerbaijan’s penal code for what the prosecution called “distribution of Talysh nationalist ideas and attempts to destroy the foundations of the Azerbaijani state,” the independent news agency Regnum reported. News reports said the case was based on an allegation that Mamedov had received money from Iran to publish the newspaper, but prosecutors have not publicly explained or commented on the charges.

Defense lawyer Ramiz Mamedov (no relation to the journalist) told the U.S.-government funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that the case was fabricated.

Mamedov has been held since February 2007, initially on charges of “resisting law enforcement” and later on the treason charge, Yunus said. In the first 15 days in custody, Mamedov was held incommunicado at a Ministry of National Security detention center, with neither family members nor lawyers able to visit him, according to news reports. Talyshi Sado stopped publishing after the arrest.

Talyshi Sado was the twice-monthly newspaper of Azerbaijan’s ethnic Talysh minority, a group of about 100,000 who live mainly in the southern part of the country, along the border with Iran. Published in the Talysh language, the paper had a circulation of around 1,000. In addition to being the editor, Mamedov headed the Institute of Linguistics of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Science, according to press reports and CPJ sources.