Two Azerbaijani journalists have been sent to prison for writing an article criticizing Islam
A media freedom watchdog at a major European security organization on Monday condemned the recent sentencing of two Azerbaijani journalists.
On Friday, Samir Huseinov and Rafiq Tagi were convicted and sentenced to prison for inciting hatred with an article criticizing Islam.
Huseinov, editor of the small newspaper Senet, received four years in jail while Tagi, a reporter, got three years, according to the district court in the capital, Baku.
"The ruling goes against the way a democratic society should handle nonconformist but peaceful opinions, even if they may offend, shock or disturb," Miklos Haraszti, media freedom representative for the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in a statement.
The article, published in November, asserted that Islam has suffocated people, made them less free and hindered humanity's development. It was also critical of the Prophet Muhammad.
Haraszti also called on authorities to protect the two men, noting that an Iranian ayatollah had issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling for them to be killed.
Both men maintained their innocence during the trial. Tagi told the court that the constitution calls Azerbaijan a secular state and protects free speech.
"The trial perverts the truth by treating peaceful philosophers as extremists," Haraszti said, adding that their imprisonment encouraged extremism by "surrendering to opponents of freedom of discussion."
Only actual incitement to violent ethnic or religious hatred should be criminalized, Haraszti said.
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