WARSAW, 15 May 2013 – The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, today expressed deep concern about the increasingly hostile situation for the media in Azerbaijan following moves to extend the criminalization of defamation to the Internet.
Yesterday the Parliament adopted amendments to the Criminal Code that provide for up to three years imprisonment for defamation posted online.
“I recently warned the government that it is falling short of its promise to decriminalize defamation. This commitment was made as part of the National Action Plan on Human Rights, decreed by President Aliyev in 2011,” Mijatović said. “Yesterday’s amendments drive Azerbaijan even further away from the OSCE’s recommendations to decriminalize defamation. I urge President Aliyev not to sign these amendments,” she added.
Mijatović also condemned a 13 May decision of the Baku Appeals Court upholding a nine-year prison sentence for Avaz Zeynalli, editor-in-chief of Khural newspaper. Zeynalli was arrested in October 2011 and charged with tax evasion, extortion and bribery. Libel suits resulted in large damage awards which forced his newspaper into bankruptcy.
“I have been monitoring the criminal case against Zeynalli and was already concerned about his 13-month-long detention. I am disappointed that my hopes for a fair retrial have not been fulfilled, and that he now faces a long imprisonment”, Mijatović said, calling on the authorities to release Zeynalli and other jailed journalists.
Mijatović also noted other limitations on media freedom in Azerbaijan, including the intimidation of a Radio Free Europe journalist, Khadija Ismayilova, and disproportional damage awards for defamation against the newspaper Azadliq. She said that such developments were particularly worrying in the run up to the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Mijatović, who was speaking from a media-freedom conference in Warsaw, said that her Office was ready to support Azerbaijan in fulfilling its media freedom commitments.