By: E&P Staff
In an open letter to the president of Azerbaijan released Wednesday, the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) said the “alarmingly high” number of jailed journalists makes the Eurasian nation “one of the least press-freedom friendly countries in the world.”
Last week, two more journalists — an editor and reporter for an opposition newspaper — were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison each for criminal defamation of a member of Parliament who is a close relative of President Ilham Aliyev.
They join seven other journalists behind bars in Azerbaijan, the WPFC said.
“The effective silencing of these journalists sends a disturbing message to all press freedom forces in your country and abroad,” WPFC Executive Director E. Markham Bench wrote. “These journalism professionals are part of a critical component to Azerbaijan’s democracy. Without a free and independent media, government officials cannot be kept accountable and responsive to the rest of society. Without this essential ingredient, transparency and good governance become impossible to achieve.”
Rovshen Kebirli, editor of the opposition newspaper Mukhalifet, and reporter Yashar Agazade were found guilty of “insulting the dignity” of Jalal Aliyev in a February article accusing him of corruption and mismanagement of agriculture fields.
WPFC said the local Caucus Media Investigations Center condemned the sentences as a “politically motivated” attack on freedom of expression, and a violation of the country’s Constitution and of Azarbaijan’s international treaties.
Other Azerbaijan journalists behind bars, WPFC said, are Rovshan Kebirli; Yashar Agazade; Eynula Fetullayev; Mirze Sakit (Zahidov); Samir Sedaqetoglu; Rafiq Tagi; and Feremez Allahverdiyev.
“The incarcerations of Messrs. Kebirli and Agazade and the rest of their colleagues constitute a frontal attack on the very press freedom principles whose respect is essential for the functioning of a democratic society,” the WPFC letter said. “Therefore, your Excellency, I urge you to use the full extent of the executive power’s influence to begin immediately the appropriate proceedings to free all of them.”