Two imprisoned journalists released in Azerbaijan

New York, April 9, 2009–Following today’s release of independent journalists Sakit Zakhidov and Asif Marzili in Azerbaijan, the Committee to Protect Journalists urged Azerbaijani authorities to free the remaining journalists serving jail terms on trumped-up criminal charges. 

Zakhidov, a prominent satirist and commentator for the pro-opposition daily Azadlyg in Baku, was released early this morning under the Pardon Act passed by parliament in March, the Baku-based news agency Trend reported. Zakhidov served all but two and a half months of his three-year prison term; he was arrested in June 2006 on fabricated charges of drug possession. Azerbaijan’s parliament passed the amnesty act to mark the spring holiday of Novruz, local press reported. Trend reported that up to 1,700 prisoners may be released under the act.

In a separate case, the appeals court in Baku annulled the verdict of a lower court and released Marzili, the editor of the independent weekly Tezadlar. Marzili had been sentenced on Tuesday to one year in prison on defamation charges, the Azeri Press Agency reported. The same court also scrapped today the six-month suspended corrective labor sentence against Zumrud Mammedova, a Tezadlar freelancer, who was sentenced on Tuesday in the same case.

“We are relieved that at long last Sakit Zakhidov, whose only crime was doing his job, is free and reunited with his family and friends,” said CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “We also commend the appeals court’s decision to scrap the charges against Asif Marzili and Zumrud Mammedova. However, these positive developments are overshadowed by the continued imprisonment of at least four other journalists in Azerbaijan. We call on President Ilham Aliyev and his government to release them immediately.”

Emin Huseynov, director of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, told CPJ that Zakhidov and Marzili told him they will continue their work in journalism. Huseynov met with Zakhidov today and said the satirist is eager to return to his work at Azadlyg.