A court in Baku sentenced Rafik Tagi, a correspondent for the newspaper Sanat, to three years in prison for an article critical of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. The newspaper's editor, Samir Sadagatoglu, received a four-year sentence. The article, entitled "Europe and Us," was published in November 2006. Islamic extremist clerics in Azerbaijan and Iran have issued fatwas calling for the death of the two journalists.
The U.S. State Department says the U.S. does not share the opinions expressed in Mr. Tagi's article, but supports the right of every Azerbaijani to express his or her own position. The imprisonment of the journalists for peaceful expression of views is an example of undue limits on freedom of expression and press in Azerbaijan. The number of journalists mistreated in Azerbaijan continues to grow. Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of two Azerbaijan newspapers, was sentenced to more than two years in prison for allegedly libeling Azerbaijanis in an article critical of the government. Uzeir Jafarov, a co-worker of Mr. Fatullayev, was brutally beaten by two hoodlums. U.S. Embassy spokesman Jonathan Henick said the beating of Mr. Jafarov has "no justification."
"Media freedom in Azerbaijan is under growing pressure from the authorities," said Miklos Haraszti, representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The non-governmental organizations Article Nineteen, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and other groups have also condemned the imprisonment of journalists in Azerbaijan.
Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes says the U.S. is committed to a free press:
"To all the courageous journalists -- writers, editors, producers, cameramen, freelancers –- who are daily risking your lives in many countries around the world, we want you to know that America stands with you in supporting freedom of thought and democratic expression."
The United States recently launched a dialogue with the government of Azerbaijan on democracy and human rights issues, including media freedom to improve d understanding on these issues and to protect basic rights, including freedom of expression.