RAN 27/07: AZERBAIJAN

May 27, 2011

AZERBAIJAN: Eynulla Fatullayev Freed After Four Years in Prison

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International is delighted to learn of the release yesterday of Eynulla Fatullayev, a journalist who had become emblematic of the struggle for free expression in Azerbaijan. His release was part of a general amnesty for political prisoners to mark May 28 Republic Day. Throughout his detention, PEN members have campaigned for his release, including English PEN's protests outside the Azeri embassy in London, mass letter writing appeals and lobbying government and European institution.

Speaking to the press about his release, Fatullayev thanked the international community for the support, saying “It’s a miracle for me. I couldn’t imagine it. It’s a real surprise to me.”

Background
Fatullayev, the former editor of the now-defunct Russian language weekly Realny Azerbaijan and the Azeri language weekly Gündelike Azerbaijan, was sentenced on 30 October 2007 to eight and a half years in prison on charges of defamation, terrorism, incitement of ethnic hatred and tax evasion. On 6 July 2010, Fatullayev was sentenced to a further two and a half years in prison for possession of drugs, a sentence set to begin in full starting from the date of conviction. As he had already served half a year in pre-trial isolation, this effectively added another six months to his sentence. Fatullayev appealed against the sentence, and the hearing took place on 5 November 2010.

 

In contravention of Azeri law, Fatullayev was only informed of the date of his hearing on the morning of the day it was due to take place. Azeri law requires two weeks’ notification, and thus his defence lawyer was denied time to prepare for the hearing. Fatullayev was also force to appear in court in a cage which prevented him from communicating with his lawyer. His lawyer described the conditions of the trial as disgraceful and walked out of the court.

 

On 22 April 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Fatullayev’s 2007 convictions were contrary to his right to freedom of expression, as stated under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court said that Fatullayev should be released immediately and also that he should be awarded US$33,400 compensation. As a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, Azerbaijan is supposed to comply with the ruling. He remains in prison.

 

Fatullayev is an Honorary Member of the Lichtenstein and English PEN Centers.

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