Security ministry hits opposition editor with new charges

New York, July 5, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores the continued persecution of Eynulla Fatullayev, imprisoned editor of the Russian-language weekly Realny Azerbaijan and the Azeri-language daily Gündalik Azarbaycan, and that of his staff. The Ministry of National Security (MNB) brought a new criminal charge of incitement to ethnic and religious hatred against Fatullayev on Tuesday, and it interrogated three journalists from the now-shuttered Gündalik Azarbaycan on Wednesday.

The government also formally charged Fatullayev with terrorism in Sabail District Court in Baku on Tuesday. The government’s intention to file terror charges was first disclosed on May 16. Together, the new charges could bring up to 17 years in prison. Fatullayev is already serving a 30-month jail term on a libel conviction.

“We are shocked by these charges against Eynulla Fatullayev, which seem part of systemic campaign of persecution to silence him and destroy his newspapers,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on authorities to withdraw the charges immediately.”

According to local press reports and the Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety (IRFS), a Baku-based press freedom group, the MNB charged Fatullayev with terrorism, and incitement of national, ethnic, or religious hatred. The charges stem from a commentary headlined, “The Aliyevs Go to War,” published earlier this year in the Russian-language weekly Realny Azerbaijan and written by Rovshan Bagirov. The commentary focused on President Ilham Aliyev’s foreign policy regarding Iran and it contained harshly critical language about the Azerbaijani government. MNB officials did not elaborate on the charges or explain how the piece amounted to terrorism and incitement of hatred.

On Wednesday, the MNB interrogated Gündalik Azarbaycan editors Shahvaled Chobanoglu, Uzeir Jafarov, and Khalid Kazimli about the paper’s financing, its sales, the topics Fatullayev covered, and the weekly’s editorial independence from Realny Azerbaijan. Chobanoglu was also questioned about “The Aliyevs Go to War,” although the piece did not appear in Gündalik Azarbaycan, the IRFS reported.

The terror charges against Fatullayev and the interrogation of his staffers reflect the government’s aggressive recent retaliation against the publications.
Local authorities evicted both Realny Azerbaijan and Gündalik Azarbaycan from their Baku offices on May 21, saying that the office building violated safety regulations. Authorities seized computers from the premises, which have been sealed.

On June 6, a Baku judge upheld an earlier libel conviction against Eynulla Fatullayev and left intact his 30-month jail sentence. Authorities dismissed the journalist’s complaints of ill treatment in MNB custody. In April, Fatullayev was sentenced to 30 months in prison on charges of libeling and insulting Azerbaijanis in a piece that the journalist said he did not write. Fatullayev said the charges were fabricated.

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