(IRFS/IFEX) - On 6 July 2010, Judge Ismayil Khalilov, presiding over the Garadag District Court, announced the verdict in a criminal case against Eynulla Fatullayev, founder and editor-in-chief of "Gundelik Azerbaijan" and "Realniy Azerbaijan" newspapers. The journalist was found guilty under article 234.1 of the Criminal Code (Illegal purchase or storage without a purpose of selling of narcotics or psychotropic substances in an amount exceeding the necessary limit for personal consumption) and was sentenced to two years and six months in prison.
The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns the verdict, which it deems politically motivated and dictated by the Azerbaijani government.
On 29 December 2009, 0.223 grams of heroin was allegedly found on Fatullayev in Prison #12. A criminal case was opened against the journalist in the Garadag District Investigative Department under article 234.1 of the Criminal Code. After the investigation was completed, the case was brought before the Garadag District Court.
Fatullayev and his lawyer believe that the incident was a set-up providing the government with a reason to not comply with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) regarding the journalist.
On 22 April 2010, the ECHR issued a decision on other charges pending against Fatullayev, stating that the journalist should be released immediately and the Azerbaijani government should pay 27,822 EUR to Fatullayev in compensation. The Azerbaijani government stated that it did not agree with the decision and filed an appeal at the Grand Chamber of the ECHR.
IRFS also believes that the drug charges brought against Fatullayev was a fabrication and declares once again that this criminal case is without merit. IRFS came to the conclusion that the convictions against the journalist were all trumped-up charges after the organisation monitored the court hearings on this case. The contradictory witness accounts given by the plaintiff's witnesses, the failure of the court to prove the charges against Fatullayev and the unlawful actions that occurred during the proceedings confirm that the criminal case was contrived.
IRFS believes that this action against Fatullayev was also related to his journalism and his investigation into the murder of "Monitor Journal" editor-in-chief Elmar Huseynov.
Fatullayev has stated that the results of his investigation showed that high-ranking officials were involved in Huseynov's murder. Fatullayev said in the court that several days prior to the narcotics charges he saw employees of the Ministry of National Security in the prison. He claimed that this case was also a set-up that included personnel from special services.
IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani government to annul the verdict issued on trumped-up charges against Fatullayev, who is recognised as a prisoner of conscience by both local and international organisations. IRFS further urges the Azerbaijani government to comply with the decision of the ECHR and immediately release Fatullayev.
Fatullayev was arrested in the court hall on 20 April 2007 following a decision by the Yasamal District Court based on a lawsuit by Tatyana Chaladze, Refugee/IDP Rights Defense Committee chairperson. After his arrest, a criminal case was opened against Fatullayev in the National Security Ministry Chief Investigative Office regarding an article published in "Realniy Azerbaijan" newspaper, which according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs caused safety concerns for foreign citizens and representatives of international organizations. Fatullayev was convicted under articles 214.1 (threatening terror) and 283.2.2 (incitement of ethnic/national, social or religious hatred abusing authority) of the Criminal Code and was sentenced to pre-trial detention. The editor was then convicted under article 213.2.2 (tax evasion).
Fatullayev was sentenced to 8.5 years in prison on 30 October 2007 under the decision of the Grave Crimes Court and was fined 242,522 AZN (approx. 240,000 EUR).
Fatullayev established the weekly "Realniy Azerbaijan" and the daily "Gundelik Azerbaijan" in 2005. He served as editor-in-chief of both publications. The papers ceased their activities after his arrest in 2007.