New York, April 9,
2009--Following today's release of independent journalists Sakit Zakhidov
and Asif Marzili in Azerbaijan,
the Committee to Protect Journalists urged Azerbaijani authorities to free the remaining journalists serving
jail terms on trumped-up criminal charges.
Zakhidov, a prominent satirist and commentator for the
pro-opposition daily Azadlyg in Baku, was released early this
morning under the Pardon Act passed by parliament in March, the Baku-based news
agency Trend reported. Zakhidov served all but two and a half months of his three-year
prison term; he was arrested
in June 2006 on fabricated charges of drug possession. Azerbaijan's parliament
passed the amnesty act to mark the spring holiday of Novruz, local press
reported. Trend reported that up to 1,700 prisoners may be released under the
In a separate case, the appeals court in Baku annulled the verdict of a lower court
and released Marzili, the editor of the independent weekly Tezadlar. Marzili had been sentenced
on Tuesday to one year in prison on defamation charges, the Azeri Press Agency
reported. The same court also scrapped today the six-month suspended corrective
labor sentence against Zumrud Mammedova, a Tezadlar
freelancer, who was sentenced on Tuesday in the same case.
"We are relieved that at long last Sakit Zakhidov, whose
only crime was doing his job, is free and reunited with his family and
friends," said CPJ's Europe and Central Asia
Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova.
"We also commend the appeals court's decision to scrap the charges against Asif
Marzili and Zumrud Mammedova. However, these positive developments are
overshadowed by the continued imprisonment of at least four other journalists
We call on President Ilham Aliyev and his government to release them immediately."
Emin Huseynov, director of the Baku-based Institute for
Reporters' Freedom and Safety, told CPJ that Zakhidov and Marzili told him they
will continue their work in journalism. Huseynov met with Zakhidov today and
said the satirist is eager to return to his work at Azadlyg.