In Azerbaijan, persecution of editor continues; CPJ seeks a halt

New York, September 6, 2007—
Azerbaijani authorities must stop the persecution of Eynulla Fatullayev, an imprisoned editor who has been hit with a series of politically inspired criminal charges since he began investigating alleged government wrongdoing, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On Tuesday, the National Security Ministry (MNB) charged Fatullayev with tax evasion, which carries a penalty of six months in jail or two years in a corrective labor facility. It is the third case the MNB has pursued against Fatullayev this year. In July, the ministry charged him with terrorism and inciting religious hatred, offenses that, combined, could bring up to 16 years in prison. Fatullayev was sentenced in April to a 30-month prison term for defaming Azerbaijanis in an Internet posting the editor said he did not write.

Fatullayev is editor of the now-shuttered Russian-language weekly Realny Azerbaijan and the Azeri-language daily Gündalik Azarbaycan. The government began moving against Fatullayev after he raised questions about alleged government involvement in the unsolved 2005 slaying of fellow editor Elmar Huseynov.

“Not content with having locked up Eynulla Fatullayev, the Azerbaijani authorities are now attempting to throw away the key by piling up politically motivated criminal charges against him,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “This flagrant persecution must stop. The authorities must drop all charges against him and release him from prison immediately.”

According to Uzeir Jafarov, who succeeded Fatullayev as editor of Gündalik Azarbaycan, the MNB filed the tax evasion charge against Fatullayev after repeatedly interrogating his papers’ staffers, the news Web site Kavkazky Uzel reported. Staffers were questioned about their salaries and the publications’ sources of financing, Jafarov told Kavkazky Uzel. The MNB has refused to comment on the tax evasion charge, citing an ongoing investigation, the news site MediaForum reported.

In a separate case, the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), a Baku-based press freedom group, told CPJ that the health of imprisoned journalists Sakhit Zakidov of the opposition daily Azadlyg, and Faramaz Novruzoglu (also known as Faramaz Allahverdiyev) of the independent weekly Nota Bene, has deteriorated. IRFS said both are hospitalized, with Novruzoglu in critical condition.

“We call on Azerbaijani authorities to immediately release Zakidov and Novruzoglu, whose health and well-being are jeopardized in prison,” Simon said. With seven behind bars, Azerbaijan is the leading jailer of journalists in Europe and Central Asia. On August 2, CPJ expressed its concern regarding Azerbaijan’s press freedom record at a U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing on “Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region.”