Thursday, May 17, 2007

Land of Tolerance Update

Azerbaijan has sentenced two more journalists to prison. Agence France Presse has the details:

Editor-in-chief Rovsan Kabirli and reporter Yasar Agazada of the opposition newspaper Muxalifet were given prison terms of two-and-a-half years each after being convicted of libel.

Five other journalists have been jailed in Azerbaijan over the past year.

The charges were brought by parliamentarian Jalal Aliyev, the uncle of President Ilham Aliyev, after a February article alleged improper business activities by Aliyev family members.

"This is a very harsh and inadequate decision," the journalists' lawyer, Rasid Hadjili, said, adding that the ruling appeared to have been "ordered" by the authorities.

Azerbaijan's persecution of journalists has been condemned in recent months by the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, the Council of Europe, and the US embassy.

Earlier this month, Azerbaijan said it would no longer cooperate with Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, which has included Ilham Aliyev among its "Press Freedom Predators" and ranked the country 135th out of 168 in its 2006 Press Freedom Index.

Unlike the Rafiq Tagi affair, which was about imprisoning critics of Islam in order to appease Azeri Islamists and their Iranian patrons, this was "merely" a case of a corrupt authoritarian regime trying to silence domestics critics. Unfortunately, in the Islamic world, regimes that practice the latter form of censorship also tend to engage in the former.


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