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Outspoken editor Eynulla Fatullayev sentenced to eight and a half years in prison

(HRW/IFEX) - The following is a Human Rights Watch press release:

Azerbaijan: Outspoken Editor Sentenced to Eight Years and Six Months
Unrelenting Crackdown on Media in Azerbaijan Intensifies

(New York, October 30, 2007) - The eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence handed down to Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of Azerbaijan's two largest independent newspapers, for terrorism and other charges, reflects the growing government hostility toward freedom of expression and the press, Human Rights Watch said today.

On October 30, Azerbaijan's Grave Crimes Court convicted Fatullayev, the outspoken editor-in-chief of the independent Realni Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaijan newspapers, for terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred, and tax evasion. The conviction is a culmination of a concerted effort by the Azerbaijani authorities to silence Fatuallyev and his newspapers.

"Fatullayev's prosecution was politically motivated, and his conviction should be quashed immediately and he should be released," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The steady rise of politically motivated criminal charges, as well as violent attacks against journalists, is obviously aimed at silencing critical voices in Azerbaijan."

The terrorism and inciting ethnic hatred charges derive from an article Fatullayev wrote in Realni Azerbaijan, in which he argued that the government's support of the United States' position on Iran makes Azerbaijan vulnerable to attack from Iran, and he speculated on likely targets of such an attack.

"Fatullayev's conviction on terrorism charges is absurd," said Cartner. "Similar articles routinely appear in US and British papers, saying that the pursuit of the war in Iraq is increasing the likelihood of terrorist attacks on Britain or the United States. That is legitimate political commentary, not the fomenting of terrorism."

Fatullayev's conviction comes six months after the Yasamal District Court in Baku sentenced him to two-and-a-half years for having committed "criminal libel" and "insult" with an internet posting, which he denied writing. Shortly after this conviction Realni Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaijan, the two largest circulation print outlets in the country, were effectively shut down after Emergency Ministry and National Security Ministry personnel evicted the staff from the papers' premises, confiscated their computer hard drives, and sealed the office shut. Such actions flout Azerbaijan's obligations as a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, and its commitments to respect fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

Fatullayev is the eighth journalist in Azerbaijan imprisoned for defamation and other criminal charges. Human Rights Watch has also documented numerous cases of violence and threats of violence against opposition and independent journalists in the country.

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