UK journalists' 'mass tweet' action for jailed Azerbaijan newspaper editor

Top UK journalists will tonight (24 May) join together in a ‘mass tweet’ to the President of Azerbaijan, urging President Aliyev to immediately and unconditionally release jailed newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev.

Journalists and other guests at the 20th Amnesty International Media Awards tonight will be photographed holding a placard with the slogan “Eynulla Fatullayevi azad et!” – meaning “Free Eynulla Fatullayev!” - in Azeri. Each picture will be tweeted to President Aliyev, who tweets as @presidentaz.

Jon Snow of Channel 4 News and John Mulholland, editor of the Observer, are leading the way and tweeting pictures ahead of the ceremony (pictures available to media on request). The action will then be rolled-out via www.amnesty.org.uk/eynulla among Amnesty International supporters and others who care about freedom of expression all over the world, who will tweet their own pictures and messages urging President Aliyev to release Fatullayev, using the #Eynulla and #Azerbaijan hashtags.

Eynulla Fatullayev has now spent four years in detention on what Amnesty International and others believe to be ‘trumped up’ charges related to his independent, critical journalism. He was the recipient of the “Amnesty International Special Award for Journalism Under Threat” in 2009, an award which John Mulholland collected on his behalf.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen, who will give the introductory address at the Media Awards, said:

“President Aliyev will find that he can’t muzzle Twitter like he has tried to do with the media in Azerbaijan.

“I’m sure Amnesty supporters all over the world will tweet for Eynulla’s freedom, and it’s good to see journalists leading the way and standing up for one of their own.

“Azerbaijan should release this award-winning newspaper editor and show the rest of Europe that it respects the right to freedom of expression.”

Amnesty International says that Fatullayev, who has a record of outspoken journalism, is a prisoner of conscience with a long history of being persecuted. Amnesty is urging the Azerbaijani authorities to honour their international obligations to respect the right to freedom of expression.

While Eynulla Fatullayev remains in prison, the freedom of expression situation in Azerbaijan continues to deteriorate. Amnesty International’s annual report on “The State of the World’s Human Rights” says of Azerbaijan:

“Threats, harassment, and acts of violence against journalists and civil society activists continued with impunity, leading to an increase in self-censorship. Criminal and civil defamation laws were used to silence criticism, resulting in prison sentences and heavy fines against journalists.”

Recent months have seen a wave of arrests in connection with a series of pro-democracy protests, the forced closure of several 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.

Background
The arrest and imprisonment of Eynulla Fatullayev is the culmination of years of harassment by the Azerbaijani government against him and his newspapers. In 2007 Fatullayev faced death threats after reporting that high-ranking officials ordered a criminal gang to kill Elmar Hüseynov, the editor of controversial opposition newspaper Monitor who was murdered in March 2005.

Arrested on 20 April 2007 following his publication of a series of news articles critical of the authorities, Fatullayev was initially convicted on criminal defamation charges. In October 2007 he was convicted of additional politically motivated charges of supporting terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred and tax evasion. In September 2009, the European Court of Human Rights began reviewing Fatullayev’s case. That December he was charged with possessing illegal drugs.

The European Court of Human Rights judgment of 22 April 2010, ordering Eynulla’s immediate release, became final on 4 October 2010. In line with this decision, the Azerbaijani Supreme Court, on 11 November 2010, revoked the charges of defamation, terrorism, and incitement to racial hatred, and also ruled that Fatullayev had served a concurrent term for tax evasion. However, Eynulla Fatullayev remains in prison as, on 6 July, the Azerbaijani authorities convicted him on the charge of drugs possession and sentenced him to two and a half years’ imprisonment.

Amnesty International believes that all charges brought against Eynulla Fatullayev were fabricated in an attempt to silence his reporting, and continue to call upon the Azerbaijani authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally and give him appropriate compensation for his wrongful imprisonment.

Amnesty International UK’s prestigious annual Media Awards recognise excellence in human rights reporting and acknowledge journalism’s significant contribution to the UK public’s awareness and understanding of human rights issues. The winners will be announced in a ceremony tonight at the BFI on London’s South Bank. Shortlisted media outlets this year include the BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Channel 4 News, Marie Claire, GQ, Sunday Times, The Observer and The Independent.

You can follow the awards ceremony, including live tweets of the winners, using the hashtag #amnestyawards and take the action for Eynulla Fatullayev at www.amnesty.org.uk/eynulla

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