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Azerbaijan Media Under Threat

Ganimat Zahid, chief editor of the newspaper Azadliq, has been given two months of pre-trial detention by an Azerbaijan court. Mr. Zahid’s newspaper is routinely critical of the Azerbaijani government. He is facing up to six years in prison on charges stemming from an altercation on the street near his office. Since September, Mr. Zahid has been the target of two defamation suits by Azerbaijan authorities.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack issued a statement saying Mr. Zahid’s detention comes “against the backdrop of numerous instances in recent months of beatings of journalists, lawsuits and imprisonment of media representatives on criminal defamation and other charges.” The statement added that “these events suggest an alarming trend of deliberate pressure against the independent and pro-opposition media.”

On October 30th, Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of two independent Azerbaijan newspapers, was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison by an Azerbaijan court. Mr. Fatullayev was accused of provoking terrorism and inciting ethnic conflict in his publications. Both of his newspapers were shut down by Azerbaijan authorities. Nazim Guliyev, editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Ideal, was sentenced earlier this month to a two-and-a-half year prison term for allegedly defaming Azerbaijan’s traffic police department. Mr. Guliyev’s paper had published two articles on corruption within the department.

Ali Kerimli is the leader of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party. He condemned the proceedings against Ganimat Zahid as an attack on political dissent in Azerbaijan:

“The way to crush opposition is to first crush the free press.”

U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Anne Derse commented on the detention of Mr. Zahid:

“Of course we are concerned about the arrest of the Azadliq newspaper editor.”

U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Anne Derse said “this apparent campaign against the press only weakens Azerbaijan, and its image in the eyes of the world.” Ms. Derse said that patriotic Azerbaijanis, “who believe in their country’s future and want to see it develop as a truly strong, truly independent, truly modern, and truly democratic state will join the United States in calling for this to stop.”