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RFE/RL Journalist Honored By Norway Rights Group

Malahat Nasibova interviews elders in Nakhchivan in August 2008.
OSLO (Reuters) -- A Norwegian human rights group that has anticipated the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize four times has given its annual prize to an Azeri journalist.

Malahat Nasibova was selected for her reporting on abuse of power, human rights violations, and corruption in the isolated Nakhchivan region in Azerbaijan, the Rafto Foundation said.

"Nasibova has been a critical voice against the authorities for 10 years and she steadfastly refuses to give up the fight for freedom of speech," the foundation said in a statement.

Four Rafto laureates -- Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, East Timor's Jose Ramos-Horta, South Korea's Kim Dae-Jung, and Iran's Shirin Ebadi -- later went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, but not in the same year as the Rafto award.

Nasibova, 40, is a correspondent for the information bureau "Turan" in Azerbaijan and for RFE/RL. (See some of her RFE/RL stories here.)

She also leads the human rights organization Democracy and NGO's Development Resource Center in Nakhchivan.

The republic of Nakhchivan, from which Azerbaijan's ruling Aliyev family hails, has suffered under an economic blockade from arch-enemy Armenia, which geographically separates the Azeri enclave from Azerbaijan proper.

The foundation said Nasibova has been arrested, brought before the courts and publicly harassed. She has received death threats, been physically assaulted and the apartment where she lives with her husband and three children has been ransacked.

"She reports on violations by the police against ordinary citizens, kidnapping of members of the opposition, and attacks on journalists," the foundation said.

Human rights groups have long focused on Azerbaijan, a tightly run former Soviet Republic which supplies oil and gas to the West in the strategically important South Caucasus.

The 2009 Nobel prize will be announced on October 9 in Oslo.

The Rafto prize, awarded yearly since 1987, comes with $10,000 and is presented in November in Bergen.