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OSCE Urges Azerbaijan to Free Imprisoned Journalists

A top European official who monitors freedom of the media has urged authorities in Azerbaijan to release imprisoned journalists and protect those working for the news media.

Miklos Haraszti, media freedom representative for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, called on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to pardon jailed journalists. Haraszti told a news conference in the capital, Baku, Wednesday that he believes charges against several imprisoned journalists are "fabricated."

Earlier this week, Haraszti met with Azerbaijani officials in Baku, where he said journalists must not be made criminally liable for their professionalism. He also said efforts to coerce the media, including punishing journalists for defamation, must stop.

Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov has said Azerbaijan is pressing on with democratic reforms and will cooperate with international organizations.

Members of Azerbaijan's media had appealed to the OSCE representative to intercede with officials to release three jailed journalists.

Chief editor of Gundalik Azerbaijan and Realni Azerbaijan newspapers, Eynulla Fatullayev, is serving the longest prison sentence of eight-and-one-half years on charges of making terrorist threats and inciting nationalist hatred. He went on a hunger strike starting March 26. Several journalists and opposition party members have joined his hunger strike in a show of solidarity.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.