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The editor of Azerbaijan's two largest independent papers was sent to jail for eight and a half years on terrorism and other charges, reflecting the government's increasing hostility towards free expression, say the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS), the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, the International Press Institute (IPI) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of "Realny Azerbayjan" and "Gundalik Azerbayjan" newspapers and a well-known critic of the Azeri authorities, was convicted of terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred and tax evasion on 30 October for an article he wrote about Azerbaijan's support for U.S. military operations in the region.

Besides the harsh jail sentence, Fatullayev was also fined 200,000 Manats (US$235,000), and 23 computers from the "Realny Azerbayjan" and "Gundalik Azerbayjan" newspapers' editorial office were seized by the state.

"The steady rise of politically motivated criminal charges, as well as violent attacks against journalists, is obviously aimed at silencing critical voices in Azerbaijan," says Human Rights Watch.

The terrorism and ethnic hatred charges derive from an article Fatullayev wrote in "Realny Azerbayjan", in which he argued that the government's support of the United States' position on Iran makes Azerbaijan vulnerable to attack from Tehran and could revive ethnic tension within the country. Read the article here:
- English:
- Russian:
Fatullayev is already serving a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence handed down in April for libelling the army in an Internet article that he denies writing on the 1992 Khojali massacre. Shortly after the conviction, his two papers were effectively closed down.

Now, staff and Fatullayev supporters are calling for the two papers to resume publishing. Members of the "Committee to Defend the Rights of Eynulla Fatullayev" are planning a nationwide protest for the end of November against his imprisonment.

In March, Fatullayev reported death threats against him and his family after he published an article accusing Azeri authorities of obstructing the investigation into the 2005 murder of editor Elmar Huseynov.

In a joint action, 26 IFEX members are supporting IRFS's call for a memorial to Huseynov, who is now considered a national hero, to be erected in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku. They are urging the Azeri government to back the initiative, which would send a strong and much needed message about its commitment to democracy and respect for human rights.

According to IRFS, Fatullayev is the seventh journalist in Azerbaijan imprisoned for defamation and other criminal charges, and his eight-and-a-half-year prison sentence is the longest handed down to any journalist in Azerbaijan's history.

His conviction comes at a time of growing hostility and violence toward independent and opposition media in the country, less than a year before the presidential elections. According to RSF, the steady increase in harassment of the independent press is why Azerbaijan was ranked a paltry 139th out of 169 countries in its latest world press freedom index.

Visit these links:
- IFEX joint action for memorial:
- CPJ:
- Human Rights Watch:
- Human Rights Watch's August 2007 call to President Aliyev for the release of jailed journalists:
- IPI:
- RSF:
- RSF, World Press Freedom Index:
(Photo: Eynulla Fatullayev at a recent court hearing. Photo courtesy of IRFS)

(6 November 2007)

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