Serious challenges to media freedom remain in Azerbaijan, including the imprisonment of journalists. On July 6th, imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist Eynullah Fatullayev was convicted on criminal charges of drug possession and sentenced to 2 and a half years' imprisonment. The representative on media freedom for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe characterized the drug charges on which Mr. Fatullayev was convicted as "highly improbable." The U.S., EU, Norway, and others have expressed their concerns about the ruling. Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and other NGOs have called the Fatullayev July 6 conviction the latest attempt by the government to silence his reporting, which has been critical of the government.
Eynulla Fatullayev is already serving an 8 and a half year prison sentence on charges of terrorism, defamation, incitement to racial hatred, and tax evasion -- all charges which the European Court of Human Rights acquitted him of earlier this year. The court further ruled that Mr. Fatullayev's 2007 trial violated his rights to free expression, that he had been unfairly tried and that there was "no justification for the imposition of a prison sentence."
As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, Azerbaijan is bound to comply with the rulings of the European Court. If it fails to comply, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe can impose a range of penalties.
Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights said that "anyone imprisoned because of views or opinions expressed, including Eynulla Fatullayev ... should be released immediately." Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, also has called for his release, and the United States has supported such calls, most recently in a July 7 statement issued by the Department of State.
The United States government urges all governments, including the Government of Azerbaijan, to fully respect press freedoms, including the right to investigate and freely publish via both traditional and new internet-based media. As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted in Baku during her recent visit, "when members of civil society are respected and allowed to work free of intimidation, democracies flourish and societies prosper."