Investigative reporting is a dangerous business in Azerbaijan. On the anniversary of Elmar Huseynov’s murder, Natasha Schmidt is among those gathered in Strasbourg to call for release of independent journalist Eynulla Fatullayev
In 2005, Monitor magazine’s editor-in-chief Elmar Huseynov was shot dead following the publication of articles critical of the Azerbaijani authorities.
Six years later, his murder remains unsolved, casting a long shadow over the country’s civil society.
It is in this climate that the case of imprisoned journalist Eynulla Fatullayev has become such a focal point for debate on the deteriorating health of free speech in Azerbaijan. Fatullayev, who worked as a reporter on Elmar Huseynov’s magazine Monitor and later founded and edited Realny Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaycan, has served almost four years in prison. His criticism of Azerbaijani government — and his dogged investigation into the murder of Huseynov — have made him deeply unpopular with authorities.
This week, free speech advocates are appealing to European ministers to place Fatullayev’s case at the centre of their human rights agenda at next week’s Council of Europe committee of ministers meeting. Index on Censorship, ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Media Rights Institute, currently in Strasbourg to meet delegations from several countries, are calling for the immediate release of Fatullayev and again draw attention to the Azerbaijan government’s violation of their commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights. Its refusal to uphold an April 2010 European Court of Human Rights decision ruling that Fatullayev should be released has met with international condemnation.
In addition to drugs charges brought against him while already in prison — widely believed to fabricated — Fatullayev has also seen retroactive charges brought against him for offences that predate the alleged crimes for which he was originally imprisoned.
Since Elmar Huseynov’s murder, violence against journalists has become more commonplace and a culture of self-censorship has emerged. Many journalists working in Azerbaijan are afraid to tackle some of the country’s most taboo subjects — corruption, insulting the president’s family, religious freedom — for fear of physical attacks or arrest.
There are signs, too, that the government is again targeting youth activists. Although the release of activists Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade at the end of 2010 was a cause for celebration, charges against them remain. And the arrest of 20-year-old Jabbar Savalan in February demonstrates that the government is not about to back down when faced with overt criticism. Savalan was arrested after he called for a “day of rage” in Freedom Square in Baku on his Facebook page, inspired by recent protests in the Middle East.
A profile of Eynulla Fatullayev is featured in ‘Beyond bars’, the 4/2010 issue of issue of Index on Censorship magazine. Click here to subscribe