Appeals court upholds verdict in Fatullayev case

New York, January 16, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns an Azerbaijani appellate court’s decision today to uphold the 2007 conviction of Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of the independent Russian-language weekly Realny Azerbaijan and the Azeri-language daily Gündalik Azarbaycan.

Fatullayev was convicted in October 2007 on charges of terrorism, incitement of ethnic hatred, and tax evasion, and he was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison. CPJ research shows that the government’s charges were not substantiated and were instead motivated by his reporting. A well-known government critic, Fatullayev had recently questioned the integrity of the state’s investigation into the 2005 murder of another Azerbaijani editor.

“We’re deeply disappointed by today’s politicized ruling, which ignored Fatullayev’s appeal and left him in prison,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan to annul the verdict and release our colleague.”

An appellate court panel in Baku issued the ruling, initial reports did not detail the basis for the ruling. Fatullayev had filed the appeal in November 2007, and hearings began the following month. Fatullayev told the appellate judges that the case against him had been “fabricated on an order from above.”

Defense lawyer Isakhan Ashurov told CPJ that he will take the case now to the Azerbaijani Supreme Court. He said the appellate court “ignored the facts we presented” and simply “rubberstamped” the October verdict. The Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety said that authorities allowed the public to observe the appellate proceedings; state television filmed the proceedings, although other groups were not allowed to do so.

Authorities targeted Fatullayev in a series of politically motivated criminal prosecutions in 2007. The persecution began shortly after Fatullayev published an in-depth report alleging an official cover-up in the 2005 slaying of fellow Azerbaijani editor Elmar Huseynov.