January 4, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists demanded today that
Azerbaijani authorities scrap a new trumped-up charge against imprisoned editor
Fatullayev, above, a 2009
recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award. On December
30, Fatullayev was charged with drug possession after prison guards allegedly
found heroin in his cell. On New Year’s Eve, a Baku district court judge ordered the editor
be tried on the fresh charge, following a late-night hearing that lasted just minutes.
Based on Fatullayev’s account and the government’s long
record of persecuting the editor, CPJ believes the charge is fabricated.
At around 10 p.m. on December 31, Fatullayev was taken from
Prison Colony No.12 to the Garadag District Court, his father, Emin Fatullayev,
told CPJ. After a hearing that lasted about 15 minutes, a judge sentenced Fatullayev
to two months of detention in an isolation unit while he awaits the new trial. On
Saturday, he was moved to a unit in the village
of Kyurdakhany, about 10 miles (15
kilometers) from Baku,
according to local news reports.
Authorities have not yet set a trial date. If convicted of drug
possession, Fatullayev faces up to three years in prison in addition to the
eight-and-a-half-year term he has been serving since April
2007 on trumped-up charges of defamation, incitement of ethnic hatred,
terrorism, and tax evasion. Three of those charges were instigated against him after
he was already jailed, CPJ research shows.
“The government persecution of Eynulla Fatullayev is excessive
in its zeal and scope,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “We call on Azerbaijani authorities
to drop this absurd new indictment against him.”
On December 29, guards in Baku claimed to have searched Fatullayev’s
cell and discovered 0.22 grams of heroin in a jacket, according to local news
reports. Fatullayev categorically denied possessing the drug and said it was
planted on him, defense lawyer Isakhan Ashurov told CPJ.
The government began prosecuting Fatullayev after he
reported on a government cover-up in the unsolved 2005 murder of his colleague
The charge was filed as the European Court of Human Rights
deliberates a case brought by Fatullayev against the government of Azerbaijan, alleging
unjust prosecution. Emin Fatullayev told the Azerbaijani service of the U.S.
government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that the new charge would
ensure his son would remain in jail no matter what the European Court found. The court, based in
Strasbourg, France, has authority to review the
actions of domestic courts, issue rulings, and levy sanctions. As a member of
the Council of Europe and a signer of the European Convention on Human Rights, Azerbaijan is
bound by the court's decision.
“It’s not hard to link the timing of this new charge to the European Court
action,” Ognianova said.
CPJ research shows that Azerbaijani authorities have a
history of planting drugs to silence critical journalists. In June 2006, Baku police arrested Sakit
Zakhidov, a prominent reporter, poet, and satirist with the pro-opposition
newspaper Azadlyg, on heroin charges. Zakhidov denied the charge and said a
police officer placed the drug in his pocket during a staged arrest. Though
Zakhidov told authorities he recognized the police officer who planted the drug
on him and could identify him, the police officer was never investigated. Three
days prior to Zakhidov’s arrest, Executive Secretary Ali Akhmedov of the ruling
party had publicly urged authorities to silence Zakhidov.
The new charge against Fatullayev is the latest instance of the
government’s years-long persecution of the editor. His two newspapers, the
Russian-language weekly Realny Azerbaijan
and the Azeri-language daily Gündalik Azarbaycan, both of which reported
critically about the government, are now closed.