Editor sentenced to six-month jail term

New York, November 18, 2008–An Azerbaijani court convicted Ali Hasanov, editor-in-chief of the pro-government daily Ideal, on defamation charges and sentenced him to six months in jail, according to the head of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Emin Huseynov. 

The journalist was taken immediately into custody in court on Friday. His lawyer plans to appeal the ruling, according to Huseynov.

Hasanov’s trial was based on a lawsuit filed in September by a woman named Sabira Makhmudova, who claimed that Hasanov and his deputy editor, Nazim Guliyev insulted her honor and dignity in two articles published in August. Makhmudova demanded that the two journalists be imprisoned, Huseynov told CPJ. On October 30, Nasimi District Court convicted Guliyev in absentia of insulting Makhmudova and ordered his arrest, the Baku-based news agency Trend reported. He has been in hiding since mid-October.

“It is alarming that one journalist is in jail and another in hiding because of a defamation suit that should never have been heard by a criminal court,” CPJ Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Any complaint against Ideal or its editor-in-chief, Ali Hasanov, should have been brought in civil proceedings. We call on the court of appeal to overturn Hasanov’s conviction. Meanwhile authorities should release him from jail and drop the threat of criminal charges against Nazim Guliyev.”

Huseynov told CPJ that the two articles–which had no bylines–alleged that Makhmudova, a Nagorno-Karabakh war veteran, was connected to a prostitution ring. Huseynov, whose colleagues at IRFS monitored the editor’s trial, said that Hasanov admitted in court that the newspaper had published the two articles, but denied any involvement in their publication. Hasanov said that he only became editor of the paper after the two articles were published.

With five behind bars, Azerbaijan is the second-leading jailer of journalists in Europe and Central Asia after Uzbekistan.