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Trial begins for Azerbaijan journalists accused of defaming Islam

[JURIST] Reporter Rafig Tagi and editor Samir Huseinov, both of the newspaper Senet, went on trial [Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations backgrounder] Tuesday in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan for allegedly insulting Islam. Both claim the prosecution is politically motivated as authoritarian Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev [offical website; Wikipedia profile] has a reputation for heavy-handed repression of the media. Violent protests broke out last year in the predominantly Muslim nation in response to Tagi's November article, which suggested that Islam has been responsible for supressing people, and limiting freedom. He went on to write that the Prophet Muhammad was a source of problems for Eastern nations. Both men on trial said their rights under the Azerbaijan constitution [text] have been violated. "It is illegal to imprison someone for their convictions," Tagi declared to the courtroom. AP has more.

Azerbaijan [CIA backgrounder] is a small republic in the Near East, which was part of the Soviet Union until the early 1990s. Ilham succeeded his father as President in 2003, after an election criticized by the opposition and the international community. The country is strategically important for its oil wealth and location between Iran and Russia.

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