Azeri rights group concerned over activist lawsuit

Leyla Yunus of the Institute for Peace and Democracy is accused of "insulting" the Interior Ministry and causing "moral damage" to the reputation of the police.

Azeri rights group concerned over activist lawsuit

A leading human rights watchdog urged Azerbaijan on Wednesday to drop a libel lawsuit against a rights activist accused of insulting the police, saying the case would set a "terrible precedent" for freedom of expression.

Rights groups say the lawsuit is an example of the heavy hand of President Ilham Aliyev's government in Azerbijan.

Leyla Yunus of the Institute for Peace and Democracy is accused of "insulting" the Interior Ministry and causing "moral damage" to the reputation of the police after giving an interview last month questioning the conduct of a kidnapping trial in which a defendant alleged police involvement.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Yunus was only repeating what had been said during court testimony in an open trial, and her reference to police practices in other countries was an expression of opinion.

"When allegations are made of official involvement in kidnapping, the public has an interest in knowing what has been done to investigate," HRW Europe and Central Asia director Rachel Denber said in a statement.

"A judgment against Yunus would set a terrible precedent for freedom of expression in Azerbaijan."

HRW echoed opposition accusations that the Aliyev government has curbed freedom of expression and media, while presiding over an oil-fuelled economic boom.

The government denies stifling democratic freedoms, saying it acts in line with the law. It accuses elements of the opposition of trying to destabilise the country.

The president, son of longtime leader Heydar Aliyev, won a landslide election in October 2008 for a second five-year term. Parliament has called a March 18 referendum on whether to scrap the two-term presidential limit, a step that could help extend the Aliyev grip on the Caucasus country indefinitely.

On Jan 1, radio broadcasts by the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe ceased after the authorities said they could no longer use local frequencies, drawing criticism from the U.S. State Department and European rights bodies.

Azerbaijan said the step was in line with the law, which prohibits foreign broadcasters from using local frequencies. It said they could broadcast via satellite, Internet or cable.

Reuters
Last Mod: 21 Ocak 2009, 13:02
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