Azerbaijan defies European Court over jailed journalist

Azerbaijan looks set to defy the European Court of Human Rights and refuse to free Eynulla Fatullayev, a jailed journalist from Azerbaijan for whom we’ve been campaigning for some time. The Court ruled last week that Eynulla’s trial was unfair and that his detention was arbitrary, urging the Azerbaijan authorities to free him immediately and pay compensation for the time that he has spent unfairly detained.

Eynulla was convicted of defamation after writing two articles that disputed the official account of the 1992 mass killings of Azerbaijani civilians in the town of Khojaly, during the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. He was subsequently convicted on terrorism charges for publishing an article discussing the possible consequences for Azerbaijan of a US-Iranian war, which the Azerbaijani authorities regarded as a threat of terrorism. The article criticised foreign policy decisions made by the Azerbaijani government.

He was also the recipient of last year's Amnesty International Special Award for Journalism Under Threat, and received thousands of supportive messages when we featured his case as part of our Greetings Card Campaign.

I have to say I was at first surprised to hear the news from Strasbourg – last time I looked Azerbaijan looked a long way from Europe – but it seems that the country joined the Council of Europe in 1996, signed the European Convention on Human Rights in 2001 and ratified it a year later. As a signatory, they are bound to comply with the rulings of the European Court.

The Court decision said Azerbaijan had violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights: Article 6.1 concerning right to a fair trial, Article 6.2 regarding presumption of innocence, and Article 10 concerning right to freedom of expression.

Yet an Azerbaijani judge, Ali Seyfaliyev, said today that the European Court could not demand the newspaper editor’s release. The Azerbaijan authorities’ representative at the Court had also intimated at the time of the decision that they were unlikely to free him.

It’s hard to say what will happen next. In their report on the story, the Committee to Protect Journalists says that “…if Azerbaijan fails to comply with the ruling, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe can impose penalties ranging from fines to expulsion from the council.”

It’s one of those cases where the Council of Europe may have to put its money where its mouth is and insist that Azerbaijan respects the rights set out in the ECHR. The country has a reputation for silencing dissenting voices – the famed ‘donkey bloggers’ for instance – and this is clearly at odds with the most basic principles of the ECHR.

You can take action to demaned Eynulla's release here.

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