VIENNA, 17 July 2008 - Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, condemned today the trial against Sergey Strekalin, who was sentenced on 15 July to one and a half years in prison for his self-confessed stabbing of journalist Agil Khalil of Azadliq newspaper in March 2008.
"This is the climax of a smear campaign orchestrated by law-enforcers against Khalil, his newspaper, and the remnants of critical journalism in Azerbaijan," said Haraszti.
Haraszti has observed the fate of young reporter Agil Khalil since he was beaten up by two top security officers in February 2008 while investigating illegal cutting of olive trees in a Baku public garden. Khalil was then followed, threatened, and on 13 March stabbed as he left the editorial office of Azadliq.
"I view the show trial against Strekalin as an attempt to protect the real stabbers," Haraszti said.
"To illustrate how far these allegations are, let me remind you, that after the prosecution stopped the case against the two officers who attacked Khalil in February, it waged a large-scale public campaign to discredit the journalist. To support their scenario, the prosecution ordered the major television channels to broadcast videos where Strekalin confessed to the stabbing of the journalist by posing as a jealous ex-lover," he said.
"The made-up charges against a self-confessing perpetrator are especially regrettable in a country that has overcome the era when prosecutors staged propaganda campaigns to discredit people critical of the government," said Haraszti.
In numerous addresses to the authorities of Azerbaijan, the Representative has criticised the harassment and slandering of journalists and asked for the release of imprisoned journalists.