Posted: June 22, 2004
Mohhamed Rzayev, Azadlig
Rzayev, a correspondent for the opposition daily Azadlig, has been pressured by the local government in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic to stop his work.
Rzayev told CPJ that he receives threatening phone calls from the police in Nakhchivan City, the capital, every time he criticizes local authorities in his articles. Recently, Rzayev has published critical pieces on corruption in the Nakhchivan school administration and the local government's inability to handle electricity shortages. Rzayev told CPJ that at the end of the month he was kidnapped from his home by local police, taken out of the city, and beaten up. The police warned him to stop writing about social problems in the region.
Posted: June 22, 2004
Melakhet Nasibova, RFE/RL
HARASSED, THREATENED, LEGAL ACTION
Nasibova, a correspondent for the Azerbaijani news agency Turan and the Azerbaijani Service of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), has been pressured by the local government in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic to stop her work.
On April 4, Nasibova aired a report about drug addiction in Nakhchivan. In the report, she quoted Rashadat Nabatov, head of the drug rehabilitation center in the capital, Nakhchivan City, on the number of drug addicts in the region.
Later that month, Nabatov called Nasibova and asked for a meeting, where, in the presence of police officers, he asked her to apologize for quoting him, according to Nasibova and an RFE/RL report. When she refused, Nabatov said he would sue her for insulting his dignity. On April 28, he pressed libel charges against her. On June 10, she filed a counter-claim against him.
Nasibova has also received threatening anonymous phone calls and e-mail messages saying that if she does not stop her critical reporting, she and her family will be in danger.
OCTOBER 22, 2004
Posted: October 27, 2004
Rauf Arifoglu, Yeni Musavat
LEGAL ACTION, IMPRISONED
Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat, who was swept up in a crackdown against the opposition press following the tainted 2003 presidential election, was convicted on a charge of organizing anti-government riots and sentenced to five years in prison.
The Serious Crimes Court in the capitol of Baku sentenced Arifoglu for his purported role in demonstrations that followed the fraud-marred election of October 15, 2003, according to local and international press reports.
Arifoglu, arrested on October 27, 2003, is the deputy director of the Musavat opposition party but his primary duties entail editing the party's newspaper, Yeni Musavat. A presidential adviser told local media in December 2003 that the editor was being detained to prevent him from returning to his journalistic activities. The prosecution introduced articles from Yeni Musavat as evidence in his trial, according to the independent news agency Turan.
Six other opposition activists were sentenced October 22 to prison terms of three to five years for their alleged involvement in the riots. The unrest erupted after authorities declared Ilham Aliyev, son of the country's ailing president, Heydar Aliyev, the victor with 80 percent of the vote. International election monitors strongly criticized the vote. Some exit polls suggested that Musavat's presidential candidate, Isa Gambar, received more votes than Ilham Aliyev, the New York-based Eurasianet.org news Web site reported.
"From the first days of the trial to the end it was clear there was no evidence of their guilt," defense lawyer Namizad Safarov said after the October 22 hearing, The Associated Press reported. "No proof of their guilt was presented-only falsified facts."
Safarov said the defendants planned to appeal the conviction in Azerbaijani courts and, if necessary, to the Strasbourg, France-based European Court for Human Rights.
Journalists and human rights activists have told CPJ that they believed the criminal charges were an effort to silence an influential editor known for his criticism of government abuses. The journalists and activists cited weak prosecution evidence, numerous procedural violations in the trial, and a campaign to discredit Arifoglu in the pro-government press as evidence that the charges were a mere excuse to persecute the editor.
NOVEMBER 15, 2004
Posted: January 7, 2005
An Azerbaijani court ordered the opposition newspaper Yeni Musavat to pay hefty libel damages to several government officials and froze its assets and bank account. As a result, the paper ceased publication indefinitely on December 31.
The damages, which total nearly 800 million manats (US$160,000), stem from seven different defamation lawsuits launched mainly by government officials against the paper between 2000 and 2003. Qabil Abbasoglu, Yeni Musavatís acting editor-in-chief, told CPJ it is unclear when or whether the paper will be able to resume publication.
In November 2003, the Sabail District Court in Baku awarded 400 million manats (US$80,000) to Azerbaijanís ambassador to Turkey, Mammad Aliyev, who had sued Yeni Musavat that month for a July 2003 article that allegedly misquoted him commenting on then-President Heydar Aliyevís health, according to local CPJ sources. Several other publications quoted the ambassador about the presidentís health at that time, but only Yeni Musavat was sued.
Plaintiffs in the other defamation suits against Yeni Musavat include Defense Minister Safar Abiyev and President Ilham Aliyevís uncle, according to the Baku-based news agency Turan.
Arif Aliyev (no relations to the president), director of the Baku Press Club, said authorities were using Azerbaijanís courts to shutter the paper, The Associated Press reported.
Yeni Musavat, the high-circulation newspaper associated with the opposition party Musavat, has endured harassment by Azerbaijanís courts for years.