Four journalists, human rights lawyer pardoned in Azerbaijan

March 17, 2016 12:13 PM ET

New York, March 17, 2016 - The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes Azerbaijan's decision to release four independent reporters and a human rights lawyer, urges authorities to ensure they will not have criminal records, and calls on authorities to free all journalists who remain behind bars.

President Ilham Aliyev on Thursday issued a decree pardoning 148 people, including imprisoned journalists Hilal Mamedov, Tofiq Yaqublu, Parviz Hashimli, and media lawyer Rasul Jafarov, according to news reports. Jafarov is the founder of the Sport for Rights coalition, of which CPJ is a member.

In a separate development today, the Baku Court of Appeals lessened a December 28, 2015, sentence for journalist Rauf Mirkadyrov, changing his six-year prison term into a suspended, five-year sentence. Mirkadyrov was set free after the court ruling, reports said.

"We celebrate today's news, and we urge President Aliyev to free all other journalists who remain behind bars," said Muzaffar Suleymanov, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia senior research associate. "Azerbaijani authorities must once and for all accept that critical journalism is not a crime, and must stop harassing and jailing journalists."

Among those still imprisoned in Azerbaijan are journalists Nijat Aliyev, Araz Guliyev, Seymur Hazi, and Khadija Ismayilova. Local and international human rights and press freedom groups, including CPJ, have determined their imprisonment is retaliation for their reporting, and have long advocated for their release. Most recently, CPJ urged Federica Mogherini, the European Union's top diplomat, to call on Aliyev to release imprisoned reporters during her February 29 visit to Baku.

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