“Azerbaijan is a secular state and is distinguished by its tolerance, but if the court hadn’t sentenced them the Muslim bigots could have cruelly disposed of them.”
From The Associated Press, with thanks to Sr. Soph:
BAKU, Azerbaijan: Two Azerbaijani journalists were convicted of inciting hatred Friday with an article seen as criticizing Islam and sentenced to prison after a trial that highlighted religious tension in the predominantly Muslim nation.
A district court in the capital, Baku, sentenced newspaper reporter Rafiq Tagi to three years and editor Samir Huseinov to four years in prison. Both have been in jail since they were arrested in November over an article Tagi wrote in the small newspaper Senet, edited by Huseinov.
The November article asserted that Islam has suffocated people, pulled them away from freedom and hindered humanity’s development, and said that the Prophet Muhammad created problems for Eastern countries.
Do you think that saying such things merits a prison term? Do you think maybe sending people to prison for saying things like this only reinforces the perception that what was said in the article was true?
The article sparked angry protests by conservative Muslims, and Huseinov demanded in court that he and Tagi be provided security, citing fear for their lives. “I have already been told that even in prison, we will both be killed,” he said.
Some participants in protests over the article in a village near Baku whose conservative Muslim community has clashed with the authoritarian, secular government called for Tagi’s death. A group of conservative Muslims attended the trial, criticizing the defendants and at one point rushing the bars behind which they sat.
Both men maintained their innocence, and both had faced a maximum of five years in prison. Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Huseinov to five years and Tagi to four.
Tagi told the court that when he wrote the article, he relied on the constitutional stipulation that Azerbaijan is a secular state and its protection of free speech. The article was “aimed against religious superstition, I did not insult Islam,” he said….
Political analyst Mubariz Ahmadoglu suggested the court had to weigh protection of the freedom of speech with concerns about how its ruling would affect the activity of Islamic extremists. He also said a not guilty verdict would have opened the door to efforts to sow discord and destabilize the country.
“Azerbaijan is a secular state and is distinguished by its tolerance, but if the court hadn’t sentenced them the Muslim bigots could have cruelly disposed of them,” Ahmadoglu said. “Besides, had the case gone unpunished, it could have resulted in publications insulting other faiths, thus making it possible for the radical forces to create a threat for the national security of Azerbaijan.”
His remark hinted at concerns about foreign influence in the oil-rich former Soviet republic “” particularly from neighboring Iran, an Islamic state that has a large ethnic Azeri minority and is often seen as seeking to boost its clout in the smaller nation.