European court orders release of Azeri editor
Judges says Azerbaijan should free journalist Eynulla Fatullayev --- Azeri officials announce they will appeal the ruling. Vugar Gojayev reports from Baku
23 Apr 10

Judges says Azerbaijan should free journalist Eynulla Fatullayev — Azeri officials announce they will appeal the ruling. Vugar Gojayev reports

Yesterday, the European Court Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Azerbaijani government must release imprisoned journalist Eynulla Fatullayev.

He was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2007 after being convicted of defamation, terrorism and tax evasion charges, convictions human rights groups call politically motivated. The court ruled that Fatullayev was currently serving the sentence for offences which violate the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered that he be paid €25,000 as compensation. The ECHR affirmed that Fatullayev’s rights to freedom of expression and a fair trial have been contravened in Azerbaijan, which has been a member of the Council of Europe since 2001.

The news raised mixed hopes in Azeri society. Though the country’s authorities say they will challenge the ruling, human rights activists believe the government may be forced to comply with the judgment.

Fatullayev’s father was pleased with the verdict but expressed fears said the authorities might attempt to hamper Eynulla’s release from jail . “The ruling verified that my son was innocent and jailed just because of his journalistic activity. I thank the international community in their firm and objective stance and unanimous support,” he said. Well-known journalist Shahveled Chobanoglu argued that “the verdict was an important victory for the suppressed activists and outspoken journalists” in Azerbaijan, which has a long record of stifling at the media freedom and suppressing dissent.

But, the government seems a long way from accepting the ECHR’s verdict. Chingiz Esgerov, Azerbaijan’s representative in the ECHR, argued that “the ECHR has no authority to give orders to the courts of other countries” and “the country’s legislation does not envision the release of a prisoner only on a basis of the ECHR”. The government has vowed to take the case to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR “to support the interests of Azerbaijan Republic”. In practice, the decision of the ECHR comes into force within three months of its issuance provided that a motion is not presented to consider the case in the Grand Chamber.

Intigam Aliyev, a well-known lawyer said the verdict will not change, even if the authorities manage to appeal it before the Grand Chamber. “Regardless of any further court instances at the ECHR, the ultimate decision will be in favor of Fatullayev, as the gross violation of his rights is crystal-clear and was substantiated by the objective and professional lawyers of the ECHR”.

Read more on the Eynulla Fatullayev case and his most recent trial on “trumped up” drugs charges

Vugar Gojayev is a freelance journalist writing on the developments in the South Caucasus