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Jailed Azerbaijani Journalist Addresses Court Ahead Of Verdict

Eynulla Fatullayev in a Baku court in June

Eynulla Fatullayev in a Baku court in June

Imprisoned newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev delivered a three-hour speech in his last hearing before the judges issue a verdict on his drug case, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Fatullayev said in his final address to the judges in the Baku court on July 2 that the government is refusing to let him out of prison despite calls from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which in April ruled that he should be released by Azerbaijani officials and paid 25,000 euros ($33,000) for moral damages.

Fatullayev, who was jailed for 8 1/2 years in 2007 for terrorism, inciting interethnic hatred, and tax evasion, is facing an additional three years for allegedly "storing drugs" in prison.

In late December 2009, prison guards at the labor camp where Fatullayev is serving his prison term claimed they found 0.22 grams of heroin in his pockets and shoes. Fatullayev said the trace amount of drugs were planted by camp guards.

Fatullayev also told the court on July 2 that he had received warnings from top officials to stop his journalism activity before he got arrested.

"One of the top officials told me that my newspaper irritates the head of state because the newspaper is not only critical but also popular," he said.

Fatullayev said he knows that the government will not release him because it knows he would continue working as a journalist.

"It will not be difficult for me to find donors and start the work," he told the court, "and I would produce an even more popular newspaper than I used to."

Before his arrest, Fatullayev had been the editor in chief of the newspaper "Realny Azerbaijan."

Fatullayev urged the lead judge, Ismayil Khalilov, not to follow political orders. He referred to the case of Russian judge Ekaterina Guseva, who lost her post for refusing to follow orders from government officials. Fatullayev urged Khalilov to follow her example and build a unique case for an independent judiciary in Azerbaijan.

The verdict of the court will be made on July 6.