Journalist sentenced to nine years in prison

The Azeri independent journalist and editor-in-chief of Khural, Avaz Zeynalli, has been sentenced to nine years in prison for bribery, extortion and tax evasion, in a trial that appears to have been fabricated. Civil Rights Defenders calls on the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt and his European colleagues to prioritise human rights in their contacts with the Azeri government.

“The sentencing of Avaz Zeynali is part of a bigger crackdown on journalists and human rights defenders before this autumn’s presidential election in Azerbaijan. Therefore it is especially important that Carl Bildt and other EU-decisionmakers stand firm and prioritise human rights in their contacts with the Azeri government”, says Joanna Kurosz, Programme Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Civil Rights Defenders.

Avaz Zeynali has criticised the high level of corruption in the country and President Ilham Aliyev’s clampdown on independent journalists and opposition activists.

According to Amnesty International and Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), the trial against Zeynali was unfair and deeply flawed. He was not granted access to a lawyer of his choice and the defence was denied access to key evidence throughout the trial.

“There are strong reasons to believe that the sentence is politically motivated, taking into account flaws in the court proceeding and the length of the sentence. We call upon the Azeri authorities to initiate a new impartial investigation and retrial of the case. Avaz Zeynali should also be released pending the retrial”, says Joanna Kurosz.

Avaz Zeynali has already spent 16 months in detention awaiting the trial. Before the criminal charges were brought against him, the authorities had already tried to silence his critical reporting, by confiscating the newspaper’s property and stopping the printing.

“Today is another black day in a terrible year for press freedom and freedom of expression in Azerbaijan”, says IRFS’s Chair, Emin Huseynov, in a press release. “Zeynalli’s conviction is part of broader strategy to force self-censorship and plant fear among journalists and media outlets ahead of October’s presidential elections”.

The right to freedom of expression and information is guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all signed and ratified by the Government of Azerbaijan.

Categories: Statements.
Tags: Freedom of expression, Freedom of the press, and Prison sentences.
Regions: Azerbaijan.