Azerbaijani newspaper founder jailed on defamation charge

New York, May 22, 2009–A district court judge in Baku has sentenced Nazim Guliyev, an editor and the founder of the pro-government newspaper Ideal, to six months in prison on defamation charges, the Azeri Press Agency (APA) reported. Guliyev was jailed immediately.

Judge Elman Akhmedov imposed the sentence on Wednesday, although the accuser, Sabira Makhmudova, said she wanted to withdraw her complaint, APA reported. Guliyev’s defense is preparing an appeal, Emin Huseynov, head of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, told CPJ.

“We urge the appeals court to overturn this conviction. Nazim Guliyev does not deserve to be in prison and should be freed immediately,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Azerbaijan should abolish criminal defamation. Libel cases should be heard in civil courts.”

The case was initially prosecuted in October 2008. Ali Hasanov, the paper’s editor-in-chief, was convicted on charges of defaming Makhmudova in two articles published by Ideal in August 2008. The articles, which were not bylined, alleged that Makhmudova was connected to a prostitution ring. Hasanov was sentenced to six months in jail but released in April following a presidential pardon. Guliyev was also convicted but went into hiding for several months. He was arrested in April.

On Tuesday, APA said, Guliyev told the court he regretted the articles. Makhmudova said she forgave Guliyev and wanted to withdraw her complaint.

Guliyev had been charged with defamation in a previous case, CPJ research shows. In November 2007, the same district court sentenced him to two and a half years in prison following a complaint by Ramiz Zeynalov, head of Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry Traffic Police Department. He was released a month later after an appeal.