Free Speech demo in London today

At noon today I’ll be standing outside the Azerbaijan embassy (in glorious sunshine thankfully), together with other free speech campaigners, demanding the release of jailed journalist Eynulla Fatullayev.

It’s a joint demo between Amnesty, Article 19, English PEN and Index on Censorship, so we’re hoping for a good turnout – there’s also a letter in the Guardian today (co-signed by Philip Pullman and Alan Ayckbourn, among others) asking people to come down.

Our aim is to demonstrate the volume and depth of feeling in the UK about this case, to show support for Eynulla, his family, and independent journalists in Azerbaijan, and hopefully to prompt a response from the Azerbaijan authorities to this public pressure.

 We want them to drop the drugs charges and release him immediately and uncondtionally.

In April 2007, after years of harassment  – including beatings, threats and libel suits – Eynulla Fətullayev was arrested and sentenced to two and a half years in prison for libel.

In October 2007 he was sentenced on further trumped-up charges of terrorism, tax evasion and incitement of ethnic hatred, and is now serving a total sentence of eight and a half years’ imprisonment.

There was no plausible evidence to back up the charges, and Amnesty International believes that his imprisonment is an attempt to silence his independent reporting. To add insult to injury, he is now being tried on further charges of drugs possession (in prison) – which once again we believe to be entirely fabricated.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Eynulla Fatullayev has been wrongfully imprisoned and that he should be released. Azerbaijan is obliged to comply with European Court of Human Rights’ judgments once they are final, and has until 22 July to appeal. So far they have sought to undermine the court, with Chingiz Esgerov, Azerbaijan’s representative to the ECtHR, argued that “the ECtHR has no authority to give orders to the courts of other countries” and “the country’s legislation does not envision the release of a prisoner only on a basis of the ECtHR.

After all the celebrations of great human rights journalism at the Amnesty Media Awards on Tuesday – Eynulla won the Special Award for Journalism Under Threat last year – it’s sobering to see that in many countries, the reward for outstanding human rights journalism can be a lengthy prison sentence.

Get down there if you can – we’ll be outside the Azerbaijan Embassy from 12 noon to 1pm. It’s at 4 Kensington Court, London, W8 5DL. Nearest tube: High Street Kensington (District and Circle lines).


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