Azerbaijani prosecutor requests harsh jail term for editor

New York, February 13, 2013–A state prosecutor in Baku, the capital, asked a court today to convict imprisoned journalist Avaz Zeynally on charges of extortion and bribery and sentence him to 11 years in jail, according to news reports. Zeynally, editor of the independent daily Khural, has been held in pretrial detention since October 2011.

The prosecutor’s statements came at the end of Zeynally’s trial, which started in May. Zeynally was arrested in October 2011 after Gyuler Akhmedova, a parliament member at the time, filed a complaint against him, according to the Baku-based Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS). The complaint alleged that Zeynally had tried to extort 10,000 manat (US $12,700) from her in exchange for withholding a critical story in August 2011. Zeynally denied the accusations and said that Akhmedova had offered him a bribe for his paper’s loyalty to the government, news reports said.

Zeynally is due in court on February 20. CPJ believes the charges against him are in retaliation for his critical coverage of the Azerbaijani government. Emin Huseynov, director of IRFS, told CPJ that in the weeks before Zeynally’s arrest, Khural had criticized President Ilham Aliyev’s policies toward the Azeri press and accused the government of retaliatory prosecution against Khural.

News accounts reported that Akhmedova was arrested today and placed in pretrial detention for two months in connection with a video that surfaced in September 2012 allegedly depicting her offering to sell a parliament seat to another individual. Akhmedova, who resigned her parliament seat in September, faces charges of swindling that carry up to 12 years in prison, the reports said.

Zeynally’s lawyer, Elchin Sadygov, said in an interview with the independent regional news website Kavkazsky Uzel that the prosecution witnesses had failed to prove that they had bribed the editor. Sadygov also said authorities had failed to support with credible evidence any of the charges lodged against Zeynally. Kavkazsky Uzel reported.

“The case against Avaz Zeynally is marked by a lack of evidence and an unreliable primary witness,” said Europe and Central Asia Research Associate Muzaffar Suleymanov. “Given such insufficient evidence, we urge the court to dismiss all charges in the interest of justice.”

Azerbaijan was holding nine journalists in jail when CPJ conducted its worldwide prison census on December 1, 2012. The country is the second leading jailer of journalists in Europe and Central Asia.

  • For more data and analysis on Azerbaijan, visit CPJ’s Azerbaijan page here.