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Azerbaijan Editor Sentenced

Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of two independent Azerbaijan newspapers, was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison by an Azerbaijan court. Mr. Fatullayev was accused of provoking terrorism and inciting ethnic conflict in his publications. Both of his newspapers were shut down by Azerbaijan authorities. Mr. Fatullayev himself has been in prison since April.

In a written statement, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey called the conviction an apparent “attempt to silence criticism and stifle free speech.” Mr. Casey noted that “Mr. Fatullayev’s newspapers routinely criticized government officials and publicized accusations of corruption.”

A spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also condemned the conviction and said Azerbaijan authorities were “criminalizing journalism and silencing critical voices.”

In April, Mr. Fatullayev was sentenced to thirty months in prison for allegedly libeling Azerbaijanis in an Internet article. Mr. Fatullayev says the article he posted did not contain the remarks attributed to him. In 2006, he was given a two-year suspended sentence for criticizing an Azerbaijan official.

Saida Goocamanli, is the head of the Rule of Law and Human Rights League, an independent Azerbaijan human rights monitoring group. She says Mr. Fatullayev’s imprisonment is a threat to press freedom in Azerbaijan:

“By giving a jail sentence to him, prescribed by the government, Azerbaijan courts have insulted the country.”

In its last human rights report, the U.S. State Department said Azerbaijani law “provides for freedom of speech and of the press and specifically prohibits press censorship; however, the government often did not respect these rights in practice.”

Journalists who criticize the government risk harassment, kidnapping, and physical attack. The report said that the Azerbaijan government has used “defamation suits, prohibitively high court fines for libel, and measures that hampered printing and distribution of independent newspapers and magazines” to intimidate Azerbaijani journalists.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said “a free press and active civil society are fundamental elements of any democracy and are essential to the protection of citizens’ basic rights.” The U.S., he said, calls on the government of Azerbaijan “to fully respect the rights of a free press and to support the development of an independent media in Azerbaijan.”