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AZERBAIJAN: New charge against imprisoned editor Eynulla Fatullayev

Monday 11 January 2010 - 12:00am

RAN 27/07 Update # 5, 11 January 2010

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN is deeply concerned by news that imprisoned editor, Eynulla Fatullayev, was charged with drug possession on 31 December 2009. Fatullayev is currently serving an eight and a half prison sentence on political charges and he faces a further three-year prison term if found guilty of having narcotics in prison. Since his arrest in 2007, International PEN has been calling for the release of Eynylla Fatullayev and it shares concerns with other human rights monitors that the new charges against him may have been fabricated.

Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of Russian language weekly Realny Azerbaijan and the Azeri language weekly Gündelike Azerbaijan, was sentenced to eight and a half years on charges of defamation, terrorism, incitement ethnic hatred and tax evasion. International PEN and other human rights monitors consider him to be imprisoned because of his history of human rights reporting, an article he published in his newspaper, which argued that the Azeri support of United States foreign policy would make them more likely to be attacked by Iran. The sentence also encompassed charges of tax evasion. At the time of the sentencing in October 2007 Fatullayev was already serving a sentence of two and a half years on charges of libel and insult for an article which he denied writing. Fatullayev has a history of challenging the Azeri authorities and many believe the charges are another way of silencing him.

Fatullayev had been serving his conviction since April 2007 at Prison #12, in Baku, until 30 December 2009, when guards alleged to have found in his prison cell 0.22 grams of heroin. On 31 December he was taken to the Garadag District Court, where after a fifteen-minute hearing, a judge ordered that for the next two months he should be held in an isolation cell while he awaits trial on drug possession charge. If found guilty, Fatullayev could be imprisoned for further three years. No date has been set for the trial. Fatullayev denied being in possession of the drug and claims it was planted on him. In an alert dated 4 January 2010, the Committee to Protect Journalists refers to past cases where criminal charges, including those related to narcotics, have been used against political dissidents as a means of penalising them for their activism.

Later in January 2010, Fatullayev's case will come for consideration before the European Court on Human Rights for unjust prosecution for his previous convictions. Fatullayev's father fears that this new drug charge would ensure his son would remain imprisoned whatever the decision of the European Court.

The continued detention and conviction of Eybulla Fatullayev and other writers and journalists indicates the persistent hostility towards independent and opposition media by the Azerbaijani authorities in a country where defamation and false charges are increasingly used to silence dissenting voices.

Eynulla Fatullayev is Honorary Member of Lichtenstein and English PEN Centres.