(Prague, Czech Republic--April 6, 2005) - All legal charges were dropped today against an RFE/RL regional correspondent in Azerbaijan after a year-long ordeal that took the case all the way to the national Supreme Court in Baku.
RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine welcomed the news, saying "justice prevailed, but a year is too long for a case that should not have gone to court in the first place." Dine added that "Melahat Nasibova, [RFE/RL's] correspondent in Nakhchivan, was clearly a victim of harassment by local elites misusing their power to coerce and punish a journalist for doing her job."
Nasibova had been accused of slander by chief physician Rashid Nabatov of the Nakhichevan regional hospital, who alleged that she misquoted him in a report on drug addiction in the Azerbaijani exclave that aired on April 4, 2004. The Nakhichevan City Court found her guilty of libel in June, ordering her to pay a fine of 40 million Azeri manats (approximately $900). The conviction was upheld by the Nakhichevan Supreme Court in October, and later by the national Court of Appeal in Baku. In the intervening months, Nasibova received several threatening e-mails, warning her not to publicize details of the case. She disregarded them, saying she is sometimes threatened and sometimes offered bribes to stop her critical reporting on local authorities.
"This is what good journalists do," Dine said. He noted that in particular, "RFE/RL journalists have an obligation, in accord with a strict code of ethics, to keep a critical watch on government, working as they often do in regions where guarantees of free expression and safeguards against abuse of power are of short duration or do not exist at all."
Dr. Nabatov today withdrew the libel charges, thus closing the case against Nasibova. In recent months, several human rights groups had launched an international campaign on her behalf.
RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service broadcasts five and one half hours daily to Azerbaijan. The programs, produced in the Service's Baku bureau or at the Broadcast Operations Center in Prague, are transmitted to listeners via shortwave, satellite and AM signals provided by local affiliate stations. RFE/RL's Azerbaijani programs are also available on the Internet at www.azadliq.org and at www.rferl.org.