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Azerbaijani journalist wins UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day Prize

Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev has won the 2012 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize
Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev has won the 2012 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize

Turkhan Karimov/DEMOTIX

Eynulla Fatullayev, an Azerbaijani journalist and press freedom advocate who spent four years in jail on trumped-up charges, has won the 2012 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, says UNESCO.

"Throughout his career, he has unfailingly and steadfastly spoken out for freedom of the press and freedom of expression," UNESCO said in a statement announcing the award.

Fatullayev, 35, was pardoned last year after being jailed since 2007 on libel and terrorism charges and later for drugs-related offenses. Throughout his career, he endured threats, attacks and prosecution in retaliation for his writing.

Media rights groups denounced his arrest and accused authorities of seeking to silence the journalist, who was the chief editor of two newspapers that were critical of the government in the energy-rich ex-Soviet state.

In one particularly seething critique, he accused high-ranking officials of being the masterminds behind the 2005 murder of Azerbaijani journalist Elmar Huseynov.

The Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and other IFEX members have repeatedly accused Azerbaijan of curbing free speech by jailing journalists and other free expression advocates, and adopting restrictive laws, like making libel a criminal offence and banning protests from the city centre.

The award is particularly relevant this year, as Azerbaijan plays host to two major international events: the Eurovision Song Contest and the Internet Governance Forum. IFEX members have been using the events as opportunities to lobby against gross free expression violations that are still happening.

For instance, according to the International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan (IPGA), a coalition of international groups working to promote and protect free expression in Azerbaijan, at least 11 political activists were given lengthy prison sentences for organising protests inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings last year. Just today, 18 April, Idrak Abbasov, a reporter for newspaper Zerkalo and IRFS, was brutally assaulted while covering a demonstration and then hospitalised. Four other journalists were also attacked. IPGA is preparing an urgent joint appeal.

The UNESCO/Cano award is conferred every World Press Freedom Day to an individual or group that defends and promotes free expression, often at great personal risk.

The US$25,000 prize is named in honour of Guillermo Cano, the Colombian journalist who was murdered in front of his office in 1986 after denouncing drug barons.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
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  • Eynulla Fatullayev free at last

    Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev's imprisonment became emblematic of the battle for free expression in the country. After four years in prison on politically motivated charges, Fatullayev was released on a presidential pardon on 26 March. He endured years of threats, attacks and prosecution in retaliation for his writing, even before his imprisonment in 2007. After years of intensely campaigning for his release, the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and other IFEX members are thrilled with the news that he is now free. His release was part of a general amnesty for political prisoners, marking 28 May, Republic Day.



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