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Azerbaijan5 July 2007

New terrorism charge brought against journalist serving 30-month sentence for defamation

Reporters Without Borders said it strongly condemned a decision to bring new charges of terrorism and inciting racial and religious hatred against independent journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, the editor of the Realny Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaijan daily newspapers, who was notified of the charges yesterday.

Fatullayev is already serving a 30-month sentence for “defaming” and “insulting” Azerbaijanis under article 147.2 of the criminal code. The sentence was passed on 20 April and was upheld by an appeal court on 6 June.

“The authorities must put an end to the judicial persecution of this opposition journalist,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The grounds for these new charges are unclear. No new allegations have been cited by the investigators, who nonetheless ordered a search of the premises of the newspapers and Fatullayev’s home.”

The press freedom organisation added: “The sole apparent reason for this new prosecution seems to have been an article in Realny Azerbaijan mentioning the threat of a conflict with Iran. In reality, the new charges seem to have been motivated by political considerations.”

The national security ministry opened an investigation on 16 May into the possibility that Fatullayev was guilty of crimes against national security and ordered his transfer from Bayil prison to its own detention centre.

Yesterday Fatullayev was notified that he was being charged with terrorism under article 214 (1) of the criminal code (which carries a sentence of five to eight years) and inciting racial and religious hatred under article 283 2.2 (which carries a sentence of four years).

He got the 30-month sentence for an article that said the Azerbaijani armed forces shared responsibility with their Armenian counterparts for the deaths of hundreds of civilians during an attack by Armenian troops in 1992 on the village of Khojali in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Seals have been put over the entrances to his two newspapers.

Appeal court confirms 30-month jail term for detained newspaper editor

Reporters Without Borders voiced alarm today at an appeal court’s decision on 6 June to uphold a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence for Eynulla Fatullayev, founder and editor of the daily newspapers Realny Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaijan, for defaming and insulting Azerbaijanis under article 147.2 of the criminal code. He has been held ever since the sentence was passed on 20 April.

“This decision confirms an exceptionally disproportionate sentence,” the press freedom organisation said. “At the same time, Fatullayev has been notified of new, terrorism-related charges against him, without being given any details of these charges. The two newspapers he edited have been closed illegally and his conditions of detention are cause for concern about his health and safety.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “We support Fatullayev’s appeal to the authorities to guarantee his safety and provide him with acceptable conditions of detention.”

Fatullayev has reported that guards threatened him and pointed a gun at his head when he was transferred on 29 May from Bail prison to the national security ministry detention centre. Since the transfer, he has been given hardly any food and water and has been forced to sleep on his bed’s metal frame, with no mattress or blanket. He has written several letters to national security minister Eldar Mahmudov to demand normal conditions of detention, without getting a reply.

Fatullayev was convicted over online posts attributed to him that said the Azerbaijani armed forces shared responsibility with their Armenian counterparts for the deaths of hundreds of civilians during an attack by Armenian troops in 1992 on the village of Khojali in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

A respected journalist, Fatullayev used to work for the Monitor, whose editor, Elmar Huseynov, was murdered in March 2005. With a daily print run of 30,000 copies, Realny Azerbaijan is well-known for criticising the government.

Serious fighting broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region in 1992. A cease-fire has been in effect since 1994 but no peace accord has ever been reached.

Read the 30 May 2007 press release: "Journalist serving sentence for libel transferred to national security ministry centre"

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