Long jail term for newspaper editor confirms Azerbaijan’s poor ranking in world press freedom index
Reporters Without Borders condemns the sentence of eight and a half years in prison and fine of 200,000 manats (230,000 dollars) imposed yesterday on newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev because of an article about Azerbaijan’s support for US military operations in the region. He was found guilty of “terrorism threat” (article 214.1 of the criminal code), tax evasion (article 213.2.2) and inciting racial hatred (article 283.2.2).
“Fatullayev’s conviction is simply outrageous as there was absolutely no evidence for these charges,” the press freedom organisation said. “This prosecution and an earlier one were politically motivated and mark a dangerous development for press freedom in Azerbaijan. We call on President Aliev to display clemency and have him released. Our hopes are also pinned on the European Court of Human Rights. It should tell the Azerbaijani authorities that this travesty of justice fools no one.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “The article for which Fatullayev was convicted was just a foreign policy analysis. The authorities used it to punish a journalist who, in their view, was overly critical. This verdict comes amid a steady increase in harassment of the independent press, which is why Azerbaijan was ranked 139th out of 169 countries in our latest world press freedom index.”
Fatullayev, who edits two of the country’s most important dailies, Realny Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaijan, was tried by a serious crimes court in Baku headed by judge Mehdi Asadov, who ordered the seizure of the newspapers’ 23 computers as well as imposing the jail term and fine.
The trial, which began on 10 October, focused on an article headlined “The Alievs prepare for war,” which appeared in the Russian-language Realny Azerbaijan in May. Fatullayev argued in this article that Azerbaijan would be exposed to reprisals if the United States attacked Iran and he cited possible Azerbaijani targets. The charge of inciting racial hatred was based on the fact that he also warned that this policy could revive ethnic tension within Azerbaijan.
After the verdict was read out, Fatullayev ironically thanked the court for its “overly mild” sentence. He also referred to Elmar Husseynov, the editor of the independent weekly Monitor, who was gunned down in March 2005. In an article in March of this year, Fatullayev accused the authorities of obstructing the investigation into his murder. He received death threats following the article.
This is the second time Fatullayev has been tried and convicted this year. In April, he was found guilty of libelling the army in an article accusing the Azerbaijani armed forces of sharing 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.
His two newspapers, Realny Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaijan, have been closed since May, when much of their material was confiscated on the grounds of a violation of fire prevention regulations.
It was in May, after Reporters Without Borders added President Aliev to its list of press freedom predators, that the authorities announced that they would no longer cooperate with the organisation. Azerbaijan fell four places (to 139th position) in the 2007 world press freedom index. Seven journalists are currently in prison in Azerbaijan.