Fatullayev (IRFS)
Fatullayev (IRFS)

Azerbaijan must immediately release Eynulla Fatullayev

New York, November 15, 2010–While the Azerbaijani Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the country will uphold the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights decision to immediately release editor Eynulla Fatullayev, he remains in jail. The Committee to Protect Journalists called today for his immediate release.

A November 5 decision by the Baku Appeals Court said the editor must remain in custody while he appeals an ancillary drug conviction, regardless of the European Court’s March ruling, defense lawyer Elchin Sadygov said.

“We call on Azerbaijani authorities to fulfill their international obligations and release imprisoned editor Eynulla Fatullayev at once,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “No one is fooled by these stalling tactics. The Baku Appeals Court’s latest ruling to keep our colleague in jail pending the outcome of the drug case was blatantly tailored to defy the European Court’s order.”

As a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, Azerbaijan is obligated to fulfill European Court decisions. The European Court ruled that Azerbaijani authorities had violated Fatullayev’s rights to freedom of expression and a fair trial; declared his imprisonment illegal; and ordered that he be freed and paid 27,822 Euros (US$37,854) in compensation. On October 4, the European Court‘s Grand Chamber rejected Azerbaijan’s appeal and upheld the March ruling.

Fatullayev was initially arrested in April 2007 on a trumped up charge of defaming Azerbaijanis in an Internet posting that he said he did not write. In the next several months, authorities piled up new fabricated charges against him, including “terrorism,” “incitement of hatred,” and “tax evasion.” In October 2007, Fatullayev was slammed with a hefty cumulative sentence of eight-and-a-half years in prison. His popular newspapers, the Azeri-language daily Gündalik Azarbaycan and the Russian-language weekly Realny Azerbaijan, folded.

In late December 2009, just as the European Court was wrapping up deliberations on the Fatullayev v. Azerbaijan case, Baku prison guards allegedly found narcotics on Fatullayev. He was charged with possession and sentenced in July to an additional two and a half years and remains jailed while he appeals, according to local news reports. Fatullayev denies the charge, saying the drugs were planted on him–a favored tactic of Azerbaijani authorities to silence unwanted critics–with the deliberate intention to keep him in jail no matter what the European Court ruled in his case.

On November 24, 2009, CPJ honored Fatullayev with one of its International Press Freedom Awards.