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Jailed journalist Eynulla Fatullayev
BAKU -- The media freedom representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has visited Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev in the prison where he is serving a sentence for illegal drug possession, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Dunja Mijatovic paid the visit on May 10, a day ahead of a talk she was scheduled to give at a conference devoted to the decriminalization of defamation.

Fatullayev was arrested in 2007 on charges of tax evasion, instigation of terror, and defamation. He was sentenced in 2007 to 8 1/2 years in jail on multiple charges, which he says were fabricated in retaliation for his published articles criticizing the authorities.

In April 2010, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Fatullayev should be released and paid 25,000 euros compensation as the Azerbaijani government had violated his rights to freedom of expression and a fair trial.

Despite the ECHR ruling, authorities later convicted him on drug charges and extended his prison term.

Azerbaijan is the only South Caucasus state that regards defamation as a criminal offense. Media and human rights activists have called for the punishment of defamation to be excluded from the criminal code.

Azerbaijan Press Council Chairman Aflatun Amashov recently told journalists that a draft law on defamation has been submitted to parliament and is likely to be adopted soon.

Rashad Majid, editor in chief of "Newspaper 525," told RFE/RL on May 9 that the law should have been adopted at least three or four years ago.

"The issue of defamation is not very pressing for newspapers now. Those who want to insult someone use the virtual world or pseudonyms [when they write their articles]," he said.

Read more in Azeri here
The letter has been sent to several senior Iranian officials, including the head of the judiciary system, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani (far right).
The families of female political prisoners recently transferred to a strict prison have written to the head of Iran's Islamic Human Rights Commission, Mohammad Hassan Ziaeefar, asking him to immediately address the jail's "intolerable conditions," RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

The letter, published on on May 8, says the lives of 600 women prisoners recently transferred to the Gharchak prison in a southern Tehran suburb are at risk.

It says they are kept in a hall without beds or access to basic washing facilities and sanitation and claims prison officials refuse to provide them with food and water on a regular basis. It says when the prisoners complain about the conditions they are beaten.

It is not clear why the women were moved to Gharchak.

Several senior Iranian officials, including judiciary head Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani and Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, were sent copies of the letter, which ends with the rhetorical question: "Is what is happening at this prison the 'Islamic human rights' you promised?"

Abdolkarim Lahiji, the Paris-based vice president of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, told Radio Farda that the condition of political prisoners in Iran is "catastrophic."

He added that the authorities first completely isolate political prisoners by denying them access to their families or placing them in solitary confinement, and then exert every kind of pressure to make them meet their demands.

Read more in Persian here

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"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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