Journalists jailed in Azerbaijan

Bacu, Azerbaijan - Two journalists in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan have been jailed after publishing an article that some Muslims said insulted Islam.

Samir Sadaqatoglu and Rafiq Tagi, from Sanat newspaper, were sentenced to four and three years in prison respectively, for inciting religious hatred.

It is the latest in a series of jail sentences for journalists in energy-rich Azerbaijan.

Campaigners accuse the government of a clampdown on freedom of speech.

Fatwa issued

The case inspired angry demonstrations in both Azerbaijan and neighbouring Iran.

A leading Iranian cleric issued a fatwa calling for the journalists to be killed.

The article, published in a small-circulation newspaper, compared European Christian values to those of Islam and some Muslims believe it insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

During the trial, radical Muslims also protested in the courtroom, demanding the death sentence.

Azerbaijan is a secular Muslim state with large oil and gas reserves.

It is also a Western ally that has troops serving with US forces in Iraq.

After the sentence, an official at the American embassy in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, expressed concern about the case.

She said that while the US did not share the sentiments expressed in the article, the prosecution was another example of unnecessary limits on freedom of expression.

Press freedom campaigners have often criticised Azerbaijan's government for what they say are its attempts to silence dissenting voices.

Seven journalists are now in prison in the country, but authorities say there are no problems with free speech in Azerbaijan as long as journalists obey the law.