PEN International is delighted to learn of yesterday’s release of Eynulla Fatullayev, a journalist who had become emblematic of the struggle for free expression in Azerbaijan. His release was part of a general amnesty for political prisoners to mark May 28, Republic Day. Throughout his detention, PEN members have campaigned for his release, including English PEN’s protests outside the Azerbaijani Embassy in London, mass letter writing appeals, and lobbying government and European institutions. Speaking to the press about his release, Fatullayev thanked the international community for the support, saying “It’s a miracle for me. I couldn’t imagine it. It’s a real surprise to me.”

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Background Information

Fatullayev, the former editor of the now-defunct Russian language weekly Realny Azerbaijan and the Azeri language weekly Gündelike Azerbaijan, was sentenced on October 30, 2007, to eight and a half years in prison on charges of defamation, terrorism, incitement of ethnic hatred and tax evasion. On July 6, 2010, Fatullayev was sentenced to a further two and a half years in prison for possession of drugs, a sentence set to begin in full starting from the date of conviction. As he had already served half a year in pre-trial isolation, this effectively added another six months to his sentence. Fatullayev appealed against the sentence, and the hearing took place on November 5, 2010.

In contravention of Azeri law, Fatullayev was only informed of the date of his hearing on the morning of the day it was due to take place. Azeri law requires two weeks’ notification, and thus his defense lawyer was denied time to prepare for the hearing. Fatullayev was also forced to appear in court in a cage, which prevented him from communicating with his lawyer. His lawyer described the conditions of the trial as disgraceful and walked out of the court.

On April 22, 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Fatullayev’s 2007 convictions were contrary to his right to freedom of expression, as stated under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court said that Fatullayev should be released immediately and that he should be awarded US$33,400 compensation. As a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, Azerbaijan is supposed to comply with the ruling.

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Thank you to all who sent appeals and supported Fatullayev throughout his imprisonment. No further action is required at this time.