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Imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Sadigov, founder and editor of the news site Azel.tv, has now been accused of slander.
Sadigov was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on 12 January by the Jalilabad Regional Court on charges of hooliganism. He was detained in November in connection to an incident that the court claimed occurred in August — Caucasian Knot reported that Sadigov was accused of attacking a woman.
Sadigov claimed that the case was a provocation organised against him, and he was being persecuted for his professional activities. According to Caucasian Knot, Sadigov’s relatives claim his prosecution is payback for criticising the authorities of the Jalilabad District.
The Chief Executive of Jalilabad District filed a lawsuit against Sadigov for slander this week. The source of the accusations is not yet clear; however, Sadigov’s lawyer stressed that he considers the claims to be unreasonable.
‘There is precedent in decisions by the European Court of Human Rights prohibiting criminal prosecution in EU member states and, moreover, imprisonment, for defamation, while article 147.2 of the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan provides for punishment of up to 3 years’, Caucasian Knot quoted the lawyer.
Caucasian Knot also reported that an unidentified employee in the Chief Executive's Office told them that the claim was filed by the head of the district in private, and the administration could not comment on this.
The case comes at a time when Azerbaijan is facing criticism internationally for cracking down on media freedom. In January 2017, American rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that independent media outlets faced harassment and closure, and critical journalists faced threats and intimidation aimed at silencing them.
The government continued its thorough crackdown on dissenting voices throughout 2016, leaving a wide gap in Azerbaijan’s once vibrant independent civil society, HRW mentioned in its annual report. According to HRW, despite releasing 17 human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists imprisoned on politically motivated charges, at least 25 government critics remain wrongfully imprisoned, including political activists and bloggers arrested in 2016.