New York, March 19, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release from prison on Thursday of Azerbaijani editor Genimet Zakhidov, who served more than half of a four-year term on fabricated “hooliganism” charges.
“We’re relieved Azerbaijani officials released our colleague Genimet Zakhidov, who served 28 long months in prison in retaliation for his critical journalism,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on authorities to build on this positive step by releasing editor Eynulla Fatullayev and video bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, all of whom have been imprisoned for their journalism.”
Zakhidov, editor of the Baku-based, pro-opposition daily Azadlyg, told CPJ today that he will resume work after a short break. He was released along with 61 other inmates under a pardon President Ilham Aliyev signed on Wednesday in connection with the Azerbaijani New Year, known as Novruz, which is being marked this weekend. Zakhidov, the only journalist to be freed, told CPJ that he had not requested the pardon. “I consider liberty my right,” he said. His conviction still stands.
Three journalists are still in prison in Azerbaijan, according to CPJ research.
Fatullayev, a 2009 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, and his family were the targets of a death threat this week. Fatullayev was jailed in April 2007, a month after he published an in-depth article alleging that high-ranking officials in Baku were behind the 2005 murder of colleague Elmar Huseynov.
Fatullayev made similar allegations from jail this month, on the fifth anniversary of Huseynov’s murder, which remains unsolved. Following publication of the allegations in the local press, an anonymous caller phoned Fatullayev’s father and told him that he and his son should “shut up once and for all” or “the entire family will be destroyed.”
The Ministry of National Security today continued interrogating journalists who covered Fatullayev’s statement from prison, including Turan new agency Director Mehman Aliyev, Yeni Musavat Editor Rauf Arifoglu, and Nota reporter Faramaz Novruzoglu.
On March 10, a Baku court upheld the convictions of independent video bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, imprisoned on trumped-up charges of “hooliganism” and “inflicting minor bodily harm.” The bloggers have been jailed since July 2009 after they were attacked in what CPJ determined to be a staged brawl. They were charged and tried in proceedings replete with irregularities.
Genimet Zakhidov had been jailed under remarkably similar circumstances and on identical charges.