5-8-2013By Christopher Plummer
Whitney Ellsworth Fellow
On March 12, 2013, Avaz Zeynally, editor for an independent daily newspaper in Baku, Azerbaijan, was sentenced to nine years in prison. Zeynally was convicted on extortion charges that were widely deemed to be politically motivated due to his criticism of government officials. In court, Zeynally was denied the chance to face his accuser and barred from seeing the supposed video evidence that was the bedrock of the prosecution’s case.
Meanwhile, Zeynally’s accuser, Gular Akhmadova, a Member of Parliament, has since resigned her seat following charges of misconduct.
Zeynally has long been a target of a campaign of intimidation. He has been detained since 2011. Prior to that, state agents confiscated his newspaper’s computers and files and levied charges of libel against him.
Azerbaijan is a perennial violator of the rights of members of the press. The systemic persecution of opposition voices, such as that of Zeynally, is a clear violation of its international human rights commitments. As part of honoring journalists and bloggers for World Press Freedom Day, the United States needs to support those at risk and foster an environment in which freedom of expression is exercised without fear.