Thursday, 17 July 2008

European media watchdog calls Baku trial 'fake', aimed at discrediting opposition journalist with homophobic sentiment and protecting real attackers

*photo - Agil Khalil in a hospital after being attacked (RFE/RL)

Agil Khalil, a reporter for the opposition Azadlig daily in Azerbaijan was attacked and stabbed in the chest in March 2008. This attack has been widely regarded by local and Western observers as being tied to Khalil's work investigating possible corruption in land deals in Baku.

Aqil Xalil, a 25-year-old correspondent with "Azadliq," Azerbaijan's largest opposition daily, was hospitalized in March after being stabbed in the chest. "Azadliq" editors say the stabbing -- the second time Xalil had been attacked in less a month -- was tied to his work investigating corruption in major land deals in Baku.

Prosecutors opened an investigation into the stabbing after Xalil's case raised an outcry from Western officials and press-protection groups. But instead of tracking down the people responsible for the attack, Xalil tells RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, investigators have focused their efforts on blackmailing him into offering a false confession.

"They gave me three options," Xalil says. "I could say that I was stabbed by one of my colleagues, or I could say that I stabbed myself. Otherwise, they said they would produce a video saying that I had been attacked by a man who was in a homosexual relationship with me, and then air it on state TV. So they said if I didn't want to be embarrassed, I would have to choose from one of these options. I was shocked."

This was followed by a televised 'evidence' where a man identified as Sergei Strekalin said he stabbed Khalil in a jealous rage. Strekalin was sentenced on 15 July to one and a half years in prison.

European media watchdog calls Baku trial 'fake', aimed at discrediting opposition journalist using homophobic sentiment and protecting his real attackers.

OSCE media freedom watchdog calls Baku trial 'fake', aimed to discredit opposition journalist and protect his real attackers

VIENNA, 17 July 2008 - Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, condemned today the trial against Sergey Strekalin, who was sentenced on 15 July to one and a half years in prison for his self-confessed stabbing of journalist Agil Khalil of Azadliq newspaper in March 2008.

"This is the climax of a smear campaign orchestrated by law-enforcers against Khalil, his newspaper, and the remnants of critical journalism in Azerbaijan," said Haraszti.

Haraszti has observed the fate of young reporter Agil Khalil since he was beaten up by two top security officers in February 2008 while investigating illegal cutting of olive trees in a Baku public garden. Khalil was then followed, threatened, and on 13 March stabbed as he left the editorial office of Azadliq.

"I view the show trial against Strekalin as an attempt to protect the real stabbers," Haraszti said.

"To illustrate how far these allegations are, let me remind you, that after the prosecution stopped the case against the two officers who attacked Khalil in February, it waged a large-scale public campaign to discredit the journalist. To support their scenario, the prosecution ordered the major television channels to broadcast videos where Strekalin confessed to the stabbing of the journalist by posing as a jealous ex-lover," he said.

"The made-up charges against a self-confessing perpetrator are especially regrettable in a country that has overcome the era when prosecutors staged propaganda campaigns to discredit people critical of the government," said Haraszti.

In numerous addresses to the authorities of Azerbaijan, the Representative has criticised the harassment and slandering of journalists and asked for the release of imprisoned journalists.

Read also:

Azerbaijan: Opposition Journalist Says He Is Victim Of Vicious Smear Campaign

Azerbaijan: State Media Embroiled In Gay Bashing Controversy

Azerbaijani media plays "gay" sequel

*Thanks to O.K. for the link to the OSCE media freedom watchdog press release.

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