The court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre dismissed on Tuesday the criminal defamation charges brought by Azerbaijani government against two French journalists for calling the country a “dictatorship.” In its November 7 ruling, the court dismissed the complaint for being ‘unacceptable.’ The hearing was the first case, involving a foreign government bringing a defamation suit against journalists before a French court.
To remind, Azerbaijan sued journalists Elise Lucet and Laurent Richard working for the France 2 network for defamation over a 2015 investigative report. The reporters were accused of defaming the Azerbaijani government by referring to it as a “dictatorship” when the former Soviet republic received a visit from then French president Francois Hollande.
The court decision was explained by references to the press law which “is designed to ensure the freedom of speech and prevent a state from launching a prosecution against individuals.”
The French Liberation paper quoted the court decision, saying “the press law has been put in place to prevent political censorship.”
The lawsuit against the two television journalists was earlier slammed by the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) as “an act of intimidation highlighting the Azerbaijani government’s contempt for free speech.” Media freedom activists also pointed to the dangerous precedent by a foreign government to export censorship beyond its own borders.