A defiant Azerbaijan rebuffs Fatullayev appeal

New York, December 30, 2010–Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected imprisoned editor Eynulla Fatullayev’s motion to be freed pending his appeal of a drug conviction, the Turan news agency reported. The Committee to Protect Journalists has concluded the drug charge was falsified as a means of keeping Fatullayev in jail despite European Court of Human Rights’ rulings that he be released immediately.

“We call on Azerbaijani authorities to honor their obligations as a member of the Council of Europe, to abide by the binding rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, and to release our colleague Eynulla Fatullayev at once,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “As with previous indictments, the drug possession charge was fabricated to retaliate against Fatullayev. It is despicable that authorities would go to such lengths to keep a critical journalist in jail.”

The editor of two now-closed newspapers, Fatullayev was imprisoned in April 2007 on a series of falsified charges, including terrorism and defamation, in retaliation for his coverage of the 2005 murder of Elmar Huseynov, a fellow Azerbaijani editor. Fatullayev had alleged that Huseynov’s murder was ordered by high-ranking officials in Baku and that authorities had engaged in a cover-up in the aftermath.

Fatullayev was sentenced to more than eight years in prison in all. After exhausting domestic appeals, he sought relief from the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights. On March 25, 2010, the European Court ordered Fatullayev’s immediate release on grounds the government had violated his rights to free expression, a fair trial, and the presumption of innocence. On October 4, the European Court’s Grand Chamber upheld the ruling. As a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, Azerbaijan is obliged to comply with the rulings of the European Court.

The drug conviction was widely seen as a pretext for holding Fatullayev regardless of the European Court’s decisions. The heroin possession charge was brought in December 2009, just as the European Court was wrapping up deliberations in the earlier cases. Fatullayev was sentenced in July to two and a half years on the new count, according to local news reports. The editor has denied the charge, saying the drugs were planted by prison officials, and has appealed. Based on his account and the government’s record of persecution in the case, CPJ has concluded the drug charge is without basis. CPJ has honored Fatullayev with one of its International Press Freedom Awards and has advocated repeatedly for his release.

On Wednesday, news reports said, President Ilham Aliyev pardoned 71 prisoners. Fatullayev was not among them.