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COPENHAGEN, 8 March 2017 – Spanish parliamentarian Ignacio Sanchez Amor, Chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s human rights committee, today called for the release of Azerbaijani journalist Mehman Huseynov, who last week was sentenced by a Baku court to two years in prison for defaming the police chief of the city’s Nasimi district.

Huseynov, a popular blogger who serves as Chair of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety in Azerbaijan, was convicted of libel on 3 March after publicly complaining about abuse suffered while detained by police on 9 January 2017. Following the detention, Huseynov claimed he had been subjected to torture, with the chief of the district police then filing a suit based on Huseynov’s statements, resulting in the charges.

“It is deeply concerning that Mehman Huseynov’s sentencing is based on the fact that he complained about his treatment at the hands of police in January,” Sanchez Amor said today. “His earlier alleged mistreatment and now his prosecution and incarceration all have the appearance of retribution, looking like a crude attempt by authorities to silence a critical voice in Azerbaijan, and I call for his immediate release.”

Sanchez Amor also noted that Huseynov is one of numerous imprisoned journalists and activists on politically motivated charges in Azerbaijan. “Azerbaijani authorities must respect citizens’ rights to speak out, and when necessary, complain,” he said.

Following the incident in January, Sanchez Amor wrote to counterparts in the Azerbaijani parliament, expressing concern over the alleged mistreatment of Huseynov. On Tuesday, Sanchez Amor sent another letter, noting his concern over last week’s conviction and sentence, and stressing the importance of citizens feeling free to bring misconduct by state officials to public attention.

Earlier this week, the OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, and Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Michael Georg Link, issued a joint statement condemning Huseynov’s sentencing and called on authorities to release him.