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Jailed journalist carries out hunger strike; European Court orders his release

An imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist began a hunger strike on 2 June to draw attention to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in April saying he should be immediately released, report the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The ECHR stated the journalist had been wrongfully imprisoned for exercising his right to free expression. Last week, Index on Censorship and ARTICLE 19 joined other rights groups at a demonstration calling for an end to his persecution. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) and other IFEX members have urged the Azerbaijani government to follow the ECHR's decision.

Editor of "Gundelik Azerbaijan" and "Realniy Azerbaijan" newspapers, Eynulla Fatullayev has been imprisoned since 2007 for writing an article that accused high-ranking officials of being the masterminds behind the 2005 murder of Azeri journalist Elmar Huseynov, along with other articles critical of government policies. The newspapers stopped publishing after Fatullayev's arrest. The 33-year-old editor is currently serving an eight-and-a-half year prison sentence based on trumped-up charges of terrorism, defamation, incitement of ethnic hatred and tax evasion.

During a hearing on 2 June, Fatullayev said he began the hunger strike to find out if President Ilham Aliyev is aware of the ECHR's ruling or not, said IRFS. Despite being a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, Azerbaijani authorities argued the ECHR had no right to give orders to Azerbaijan's courts, says ARTICLE 19. Fatullayev ended the hunger strike after several days, after receiving a visit from an official telling him the President was informed about his situation, reports RSF.

After the ECHR began reviewing his case, Fatullayev was accused of possessing heroin last December - widely seen as a fabricated charge to keep him behind bars to counter any decision by the ECHR. If convicted on the drug charges, the authorities can keep him in prison for an extra three years.

Index on Censorship, ARTICLE 19, English PEN and Amnesty International UK protested on 3 June outside the Azerbaijani embassy in London, calling for Fatullayev's release. The group also submitted a letter to the embassy, calling for politically motivated charges against him to be dropped.

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