Petitioners Urge Azerbaijan To Free Eynulla Fatullayev


Committee to Protect Journalists
Jan 20 2010

His Excellency Ilham Aliyev
President of Azerbaijan
19 Istiqlaliyyat Street
Baku 370066, Azerbaijan

Hand-delivered to Charge d’Affaires Khazar Ibrahim at the Azerbaijani
Embassy in Washington Also via facsimile: +994 12 492 0625 and +994
12 492 3543

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists urges you to open a new page
in your government’s policies toward the independent and opposition
press, one that would demonstrate tolerance for the critical role of
media in a democracy. No other action would contribute to this goal
as much as the immediate release of Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of the
now-closed independent Russian-language weekly Realny Azerbaijan and
the Azeri-language daily Gundalik Azarbaycan, who has been imprisoned
since April 2007 on charges that range from defamation to terrorism.

Our research shows that the charges were not based on factual evidence
and were pursued, instead, to retaliate against Fatullayev and silence
his critical journalism.

The persecution of Fatullayev began after he wrote an article marking
the second anniversary of the March 2005 murder of his former editor
and mentor Elmar Huseynov. The piece, published in Realny Azerbaijan
and headlined "Lead and Roses," accused Azerbaijani authorities of
deliberately obstructing the investigation into Huseynov’s killing,
and ignoring evidence that could lead to the masterminds. Fatullayev
said the assassination was carried out by a criminal group that
included several Georgian citizens who had been hired by an unnamed
official in Baku. Although Azerbaijani officials publicly claimed
to be seeking Georgian citizens in the case, Fatullayev wrote that
they had not provided authorities in Georgia with arrest warrants or
supporting evidence. Huseynov’s killing remains unsolved.

Four days after Fatullayev’s piece was published, on March 6, 2007,
his mother received an anonymous phone call. As a "wise woman," the
caller said, she should "talk sense" into her son or "we will send
him to Elmar." Fatullayev reported the threat to police, but it was
he who came under intense investigation.

In April 2007, a Yasamal District Court judge convicted Fatullayev
of defaming Azerbaijanis in an Internet posting that was falsely
attributed to him. The posting, published on several Web sites,
said Azerbaijanis bore some responsibility for the 1992 killings of
residents of the restive Nagorno-Karabakh region, according to local
news reports. Fatullayev was sentenced to a 30-month term and taken
into custody immediately. With Fatullayev jailed, authorities evicted
Realny Azerbaijan and Gundalik Azarbaycan from their Baku offices,
citing purported fire safety and building code violations. Both soon
stopped publishing.

More charges followed against Fatullayev. In October 2007, a judge
in the Azerbaijani Court of Serious Crimes found Fatullayev guilty of
terrorism, incitement to ethnic hatred, and tax evasion. Fatullayev’s
sentences were consolidated, and he was ordered to serve a total of
eight years and six months in prison.

The terrorism and incitement charges stemmed from a Realny Azerbaijan
commentary headlined "The Aliyevs Go to War," which analyzed
possible consequences for Azerbaijan if the United States were
to wage war with Iran. The piece sharply criticized your foreign
policy. Although Fatullayev’s article was similar to many others
published on the subject, only Fatullayev was charged and tried. The
indictment alleged that international business people and diplomats
had complained about the story, claiming to have been "frightened"
by it. Yet no such witnesses ever testified in court, according to
trial monitors. The tax case was filed after Fatullayev was jailed on
other charges and his newspapers had been ousted from their offices,
making it impossible to collect the records needed to mount a defense.

The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan denied Fatullayev’s appeal in June
2008, ending domestic legal avenues. Fatullayev appealed to the
Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which began reviewing
the case in September 2008. The case is pending.

In a very disturbing development, authorities with the Azerbaijani
Penitentiary Service searched Fatullayev’s cell on December 29,
2009, and claimed to have found 0.22 grams of heroin. Fatullayev,
who was charged with drug possession and moved into isolation,
has denied possessing any drugs. Based on Fatullayev’s account, as
relayed to us by his attorney, and based on the government’s long
record of persecuting the editor, CPJ believes this new drug charge
to be fabricated.

The timing of the new charge points to manipulation. The charge
was filed as the European Court was expected to set a hearing date
in Fatullayev’s case. The journalist’s supporters believe this new
charge was trumped up to ensure Fatullayev would remain in jail no
matter what the European Court found. The drug possession charge
could bring up to three years in prison.

Our research shows that Fatullayev has committed no criminal offense,
and that he is being persecuted in reprisal for reporting that
challenged the official investigation into Huseynov’s unsolved murder.

In November 2009, the Committee to Protect Journalists recognized
Fatullayev’s courageous journalism by awarding him one of our
International Press Freedom Awards. Hundreds of international
journalists gathered to honor him and sign petitions seeking his
release. You will find their names below.

We were relieved to hear of the December 26, 2009, release on
humanitarian grounds of Bizim Yol reporter Mushfig Huseynov, whose
health had deteriorated in state custody. We call upon Your Excellency
to build on this positive step and to free Eynulla Fatullayev.

Releasing our unjustly imprisoned colleague will reflect your
commitment to the rule of law and to a just and tolerant democratic

Sincerely, Joel Simon Executive Director

Paul Steiger Chairman, Committee to Protect Journalists


(see list at

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