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Azerbaijani Service Correspondents Win Investigative Journalism Prize

Saadat Akifqizi and Maarif Akperli accept an award for their investigative journalism report in Baku, 6 May 2010
RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service correspondents Maarif Akperli and Saadat Akifqizi have been awarded "Best Article on Human Trafficking" for their investigative report on more than 600 Bosnian slave workers mistreated at construction sites in Azerbaijan's capital of Baku.

The award, which is given out annually, was presented by The Coalition Against Human Trafficking, a group of NGOs dedicated to migration issues, with the support of the OSCE and the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan. The award ceremony was held on May 6 in Baku.

Akperli and Akifqizi worked in coordination with RFE/RL's Balkan Service to track down the story about hundreds of workers, mostly from Bosnia and Herzegovina, being subjected to slave labour in Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijani Service correspondents managed to locate the construction businesses which trafficked the Bosnians into Azerbaijan and forced them to work for little or no pay. Living in terrible conditions, the workers had their passports confiscated and were denied access to medical treatment.

After the scandal the company was forced to pay compensation to Bosnian workers, return their passports and provide for their transportation back home. Some of the Bosnian workers have since filed additional lawsuits against the traffickers.

The Balkan Service of RFE/RL reported that one of the owners of the companies found to be mistreating workers, Saša Lipovac, had been indicted in Bosnia for war crimes he committed during the 1990s. Lipovac was detained in Georgia in January, and has been extradited to Bosnia and Herzegovina for prosecution.