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Azerbaijan: RFE/RL Journalist Freed But Faces New Charges

RFE/RL correspondent Ilgar Nasibov (RFE/RL) Ilgar Nasibov, a correspondent with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, was released from prison in Azerbaijan's exclave of Naxcivan on December 10, four days after he was summarily sentenced for libeling local law-enforcement personnel.

A Naxcivan city court judge dismissed the charges and the 90-day jail sentence, which stemmed from an e-mail Nasibov sent to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev complaining that Naxcivan journalists were routinely harassed by local police.

At the same time, however, the judge handed Nasibov a one-year suspended sentence in response to a second set of libel allegations.

"The judge told me that this decision will not affect my journalism activities in the region," Nasibov said. "He said: 'This year is a probation period for you, and during this time, you can't distribute false information or be involved in any illegal or inflammatory activity. So you should work in a constructive and objective way. If you do that, you shouldn't have any problems.'"

Authorities claim that materials found on Nasibov's computer, confiscated at the time of his December 6 imprisonment, included incriminating accusations about two local professors, a businessmen, and the brother of the local police chief. Prosecutors attempted to link the apparent find to a recent newspaper article alleging that unnamed university professors were colluding with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels. (Naxcivan shares a 13-kilometer border with Turkey.)

Nasibov's wife, Malahat Nasibova, says police confiscated her husband's computer and other work materials without a warrant. Authorities also failed to provide a copy of the indictment against him or even inform Nasibova where he was being held.

The case came amid a mounting media crackdown in Azerbaijan, and quickly drew international condemnation. The U.S. State Department said it was "deeply disturbed" by Nasibov's imprisonment, and called the case "yet another indication of the deterioration of media freedom in Azerbaijan."

Nasibov was the 10th journalist to serve prison time in Azerbaijan this year. Elman Abbasov, a fellow Naxcivan journalist, was detained on December 6 but released during the weekend.

Nasibov and his wife both report regularly on the human rights situation in Naxcivan, a remote exclave separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenia. Its regional head, Vasif Talibov, is a close relative of President Aliyev's and has imposed harsh restrictions on his citizens ranging from bans on bread-making to forced weekend labor.

Oil-rich Azerbaijan ranks low in many global press-freedom rankings, and Naxcivan is considered one of its most repressive regions. The press-freedom group Reporters Without Borders has described it as a "region without rights" or freedom of expression.

(RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service)

For more on Nasibov's case and others, see Journalist Crackdown Continues In 'Azerbaijan's North Korea'

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