In Azerbaijan, new charge filed against imprisoned editor

New York, May 22, 2007—Azerbaijani authorities have filed a terrorism charge against Eynulla Fatullayev, the imprisoned editor of the independent Russian-language weekly Realny Azerbaijan and the Azeri-language daily Gündalik Azarbaycan, in the latest government action against the journalist and his publications. Fatullayev, a persistent government critic, is already in prison on a specious defamation charge and has received multiple death threats. Over the weekend, government officials sealed his newspapers’ offices.

National Security agents today conducted an hours-long search of the editor’s home and the papers’ offices. The offices were sealed on Sunday after fire officials alleged that the building housing the publications was in violation of fire safety regulations. Agents confiscated all of the papers’ 21 computers in today’s search, IRFS reported. The independent Turan news agency said agents also seized notebooks and other documents.

Fatullayev had drawn threats from Azerbaijani nationalists after he traveled in February 2005 to Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory claimed by both Armenia and Azerbaijan, to interview leaders of the region’s unrecognized government. Last month, Fatullayev was sentenced to 30 months in prison for defaming refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh in a remark posted on the Internet. Fatullayev told CPJ in March he never made the comment and that the case had been manufactured to silence him.

“Not content with having jailed Eynulla Fatullayev on a spurious libel charge, the authorities in Azerbaijan have now brought a vague terrorism charge that could keep him behind bars for another 12 years,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Without supporting evidence, this indictment seems to be the latest step in a relentless onslaught by the authorities to silence critical media and journalists. We call on the prosecution to withdraw this charge immediately.”

Gündalik Azarbaycan editor Uzeyir Jafarov told CPJ the staff intended to continue publishing the newspapers.

Realny Azerbaijan is the successor of the opposition weekly Monitor, which was shut down after the unsolved March 2005 assassination of its editor, Elmar Huseynov. Both Realny Azerbaijan and Gündalik Azarbaycan are known for their critical reporting and are widely read in Azerbaijan. In March of this year, Fatullayev received a death threat after accusing Azerbaijani officials of involvement in Huseynov’s killing. The threats have continued even while Fatullayev has been in prison.

According to CPJ research, Azerbaijan is one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom and the leading jailer of journalists in the region. High-ranking government  have suppressed critical voices by filing criminal defamation lawsuits, lodging spurious drug charges, and imprisoning independent and opposition journalists.