Azerbaijan urged to release dissenting journalist

Amnesty International has urged the Azerbaijani authorities to free a journalist jailed on trumped up charges of terrorism and defamation after the European Court of Human Rights ruled he had been wrongfully imprisoned.The Court said on Thursday that Eynulla Fatullayev, who was jailed in April 2007 after writing a series of newspaper articles critical of the authorities, should be released immediately. “Azerbaijan should take this opportunity to show it is willing to bring to an end its reputation for silencing dissenting voices and imprisoning those that speak out against the government,” said Natalia Nozadze, Amnesty International’s researcher on Azerbaijan. Eynulla Fatullayev was convicted of defamation after writing two articles that disputed the official account of the 1992 mass killings of Azerbaijani civilians in the town of Khojaly, during the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.He was subsequently convicted on terrorism charges for publishing an article discussing the possible consequences for Azerbaijan of a US-Iranian war, which the Azerbaijani authorities regarded as a threat of terrorism. The article criticized foreign policy decisions made by the Azerbaijani government.The European Court verdict stated that Eynulla Fatullayev’s convictions on charges of defamation and terrorism violated his rights to free expression. It found that he had been unfairly tried and that there was “no justification for the imposition of a prison sentence”.”As a journalist and a private individual, [Eynulla Fatullayev] had not been in a position to influence or exercise any degree of control over any of the hypothetical events discussed in the article,” stated the Court.”Thus, the domestic courts’ finding that the applicant had threatened the State with terrorist acts had been arbitrary.”The Court’s verdict becomes final after three months if it is not contested.Amnesty International believes that Eynulla Fatullayev’s imprisonment is an attempt to silence his reporting and considers him to be a prisoner of conscience.

As a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights, Azerbaijan is obliged to adhere to the court’s final judgement.“The authorities should release Eynulla Fatullayev without delay,” said Natalia Nozadze.After the European Court began reviewing Eynulla Fatullayev’s case in September 2009, he was accused of heroin possession. Amnesty International believes this new charge was fabricated in order to keep him in prison. The charge was not considered in Thursday’s ruling.