Protesters wearing masks bearing the face of jailed journalist Eynulla Fatullayev will stage a protest outside the Azerbaijani Embassy on Wednesday 20 April 2011. The demonstration, by five London-based human rights organisations, marks the fourth anniversary of Azerbaijani journalist Fatullayev’s wrongful imprisonment.
The “Fifty Fatullayevs” will face the Embassy as representatives hand in a letter calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately and unconditionally release and compensate Fatullayev, who remains wrongfully imprisoned following his conviction in July 2010 on a charge of drugs possession. This latest charge is widely believed to have been fabricated in order to keep Fatullayev in prison despite a European Court of Human Rights judgment in April 2010 relating to charges from 2007 – only the second judgment of its kind - ordering his immediate release.
Amnesty International UK, ARTICLE 19, English PEN, Index on Censorship, and the Media Diversity Institute say that Fatullayev has a long history of being persecuted by the Azerbaijani authorities, and that the July 2010 conviction is just the latest in a series of politically motivated charges connected to his journalistic activities. The organisations are urging the Azerbaijani authorities to honour their international obligations to respect the right to freedom of expression.
Whilst Fatullayev remains in prison, the freedom of expression situation in Azerbaijan continues to deteriorate. Recent weeks have seen a wave of arrests in connection with a series of pro-democracy protests, increased pressure against non-governmental organisations working on democracy and human rights, and the abduction and beating of two journalists in connection with their criticism of the authorities.
“Fatullayev’s imprisonment has had a distinct chilling effect on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. The longer he remains in jail, the longer journalists will continue to engage in self-censorship for fear of retaliation. It’s time to put an end to this pervasive climate of fear”, said ARTICLE 19 Executive Director Agnès Callamard.
“Holding Eynulla Fatullayev in prison for so long proves that freedom of expression in Azerbaijan is deteriorating. Economic interests in a country rich with resources must not be misunderstood as a ‘carte blanche’ for prosecution of journalists and use of repressive methods to silence independent media outlets in Azerbaijan”, said Media Diversity Institute Executive Director Milica Pesic.
“Azerbaijan’s international standing has already been seriously damaged by this case. Concocting new, trumped-up charges against Eynulla Fatullayev to dodge a European Court ruling is not the action of a government that respects the rule of law. Azerbaijan should release this award-winning journalist and show the rest of Europe that it respects the right to freedom of expression”, said Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen.
“The continued detention of Eynulla Fatullayev is a travesty of justice. Through his journalism, Fatullayev has exposed the reality of Azerbaijan that the Government wants to keep concealed. Instead of protecting his freedom, the Azerbaijani Government has disregarded a judgment in his favour from the European Court of Human Rights. He should be released immediately and unconditionally", said Salil Tripathi, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee, English PEN.
Arrested on 20 April 2007 following publication of a series of news articles critical of the authorities, Fatullayev was initially convicted on criminal defamation charges. In October 2007, Fatullayev was convicted of additional politically motivated charges of supporting terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred and tax evasion. In its judgment of April 2010 pertaining to these convictions, the European Court of Human Rights found that the Azerbaijani authorities had violated Fatullayev’s rights to freedom of expression and to a fair trial, and ordered Azerbaijan to immediately release him and pay damages.
However, in July 2010, during the period before this ruling became final, the Azerbaijani authorities convicted Fatullayev of drug possession after prison officials allegedly found drugs in his clothing in December 2009. Fatullayev vehemently denies the accusation, and international experts, including Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg and former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti, have noted their concerns, stating respectively that the charge of drugs possession “lacks credibility” and is “highly improbable”.
“We believe the drugs possession charge to be fabricated and intended to keep
Fatullayev in prison despite the European Court judgment ordering his
release. This is another example of the Azerbaijani authorities using
politically motivated charges in an attempt to restrict freedom of
expression”, said Natasha Schmidt, Assistant Editor at Index on Censorship.
As a Council of Europe Member State, Azerbaijan is obligated to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression and to execute European Court of Human Rights judgments. Instead, by keeping Fatullayev in prison on politically motivated charges, the Azerbaijani authorities are continuing to demonstrate their lack of commitment to upholding fundamental human rights.