Imprisonment of journalists following their criticism of a politician

Mahmudov and Agazade Group v. Azerbaijan (App no 35877/04), Fatullayev v. Azerbaijan (App no 40984/07)

  • Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

Case summary: Applicants were prosecuted for the publication of a print article in 2003 and objected to their imprisonment for defamation of a politician and agriculture expert; the Court found violations of Articles 10.

Key legal points: the Court held that the criminal sanction imposed on the applicants had amounted to a disproportionate interference with their freedom of expression and, in breach of Article 10, could not be regarded as “necessary in a democratic society”.

The Court’s ordered remedy: the Court awarded the applicants, jointly, 1,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage. 

Key recommendations made by civil society:

  • The Committee should urge the government should abolish imprisonment as a sanction for criminal defamation, including defamation online.
  • Azerbaijan should halt its practice of launching selective prosecutions against government critics.
  • The Committee should urge the government to immediately review all on-going criminal prosecutions against journalists and bloggers.
  • The authorities should drop criminal charges against investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova

The Committee of Ministers’ decisions: In its June 2014 decision, the CoM stressed the importance of ensuring that sanctions imposed, whether in the context of criminal or civil defamation proceedings, are not disproportionate and do not have a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression. In September 2014, the Committee issued an interim resolution reiterating tits serious concerns, in particular on account of the reported recent use of different criminal laws against journalists, bloggers, lawyers and members of NGOs. Subsequently, the Committee has deeply deplored the absence of any information in response to its decisions, as well as expressed its “deep concern” concerning the charges, and the reasons for the conviction of Intigam Aliyev, the applicants’ representative. In September 2015, the Committee instructed the Secretariat, in the absence of tangible progress, to prepare a subsequent draft interim resolution.