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It's National Press Day In Azerbaijan, But There's Little Cause For Celebration


Journalist Eynulla Fatullayev in a Baku court in 2007.

Today is National Press Day in Azerbaijan, but independent journalists in the South Caucasus country have little reason to celebrate.

Three of their own remain in prison.

Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of the newspaper "Realny Azerbaijan," is serving an 8 1/2-year sentence on charges related to terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred, and tax evasion.

Qanimat Zahid, editor of the opposition "Azadliq" newspaper, is serving a four-year sentence on hooliganism charges.

Mirza Sakit, a satire writer and poet who also worked for "Azadliq," is serving a three-year sentence on drugs charges.

The three journalists are regarded in the West as political prisoners. The charges against them are widely believed to have been fabricated.

International and local watchdog groups, nongovernmental organizations, and political parties have applied to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, requesting pardons for the three. Aliyev is reportedly on vacation, however, and none has been released.

The journalists themselves have not applied for pardons, since they believe asking for a pardon implies guilt.

Six other journalists imprisoned in Azerbaijan have been pardoned in the past six months or so.

The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has included Aliyev as one of its "Press Freedom Predators."

State Financial Assistance

Meanwhile, Aliyev is expected to soon sign a decree offering print media outlets in the country $2 million in financial assistance, including low-interest loans.

Some editors, including Azer Ahmedov, deputy editor of "Azadliq," believe the money is a way for Aliyev to buy the favor of the country's print media on the eve of the elections. The program is also aimed at making Azerbaijani journalists dependant on state money, he added.

"We don't need any assistance. We just want them to stop beating and arresting us, to stop the harassment of the media and journalists," Ahmedov tells RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service. "That is all of the support needed from the government."

About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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