(Prague/Washington, DC--17 June 2004) A correspondent for RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service was called into court on June 10 to answer libel charges brought against her by the head of a local drug abuse rehabilitation center.
The charges, filed in Nakhichevan city court against Melahat Nasibova by Dr. Rashadat Nabatov, are based on a report by Nasibova that was aired
by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service on April 4.
In her report, Nasibova quotes Dr. Nabatov and his predecessor as chief physician at the "Narcological Clinic" in Nakhichevan city as saying that a "tendency for drug addiction is mostly observed among the region's youth" and that "563 drug addicts have been in the clinic for treatment in 2002-2003." In late April, Dr. Nabatov called Nasibova to a meeting at the local office of the Interior Ministry's Office on Drug Abuse where Nabatov and Nasibova were asked to "reconcile" and Nasibova was urged to apologize to Dr. Nabatov for using the quotation. Nasibova refused, at which point Dr. Nabatov stated that he would sue her for "libel" and "insulting his dignity."
Nasibova, who also works as a correspondent for the Turan news agency, told RFE/RL that she has received e-mails containing threats if she were to publicize details of the case. In an interview with the Baku-based newspaper "Yeni Musavat," Nasibova said that it was possible that the case was filed because local officials are unhappy with her coverage of events in Nakhichevan. According to Nasibova, she has been "regularly offered bribes and high-ranking posts" in an effort to "force me to stop making critical reports." However, Nasibova asserted in the newspaper report, "professional ethics rule out these suggestions."
During the first hearing of the case on June 10, Nasibova filed a counter-claim against Dr. Nabatov, charging that Dr. Nabatov was abusing the court by filing false claims against her. The court then granted an indefinite continuance of the case. If Nasibova were to lose in this venue, she has already said that she will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and then on to a court in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku.
RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service broadcasts five and one half hours of programming a day to Azerbaijan, produced in Prague and the service's Baku Bureau and transmitted to listeners via shortwave, satellite and AM signals provided by local affiliate stations. Azerbaijani Service programming is also available via the Internet, at the service's website www.azadses.org
and at www.rferl.org