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Jailed Azerbaijani Journalist Receives Third Sentence

Eynulla Fatullayev in court on June 17

Eynulla Fatullayev in court on June 17

BAKU -- Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev has been sentenced to prison for the third time, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Fatullayev received a 2 1/2-year sentence after being found guilty by a Baku court of "storing drugs" while in prison.

Fatullayev's latest prison term will begin on July 6 -- the day of his sentencing -- despite the fact he was transferred to a special investigatory cell in December. Fatullayev was transferred on the day the drugs were allegedly found in his prison cell as he was serving two previous sentences.

Fatullayev's lawyer, Isakhan Ashurov, told RFE/RL that it is illegal to calculate the prison term from the day the verdict is issued.

"He was transferred to closed regime [in December]," Ashurov said. "The judge should have taken this fact into consideration."

Prosecutors had demanded a three-year prison sentence for Fatullayev.

Fatullayev was first jailed in 2007 for inciting interethnic hatred and later for terrorism and tax evasion for a total of 8 1/2 years in prison.

In late December 2009, prison guards at the labor camp where Fatullayev was 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.

Elsa Vidal of the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, also criticized the handling of the case. She said the sentence was "mainly political because the [court] never proved the fact [Fatullayev] was using drugs and had them on him."

"Secondly, the conditions in which the drugs were found are very unclear," Vidal said. "There were absolutely no independent witnesses to this search. So, the drugs could have been planted."

She added that "the only reason why [he] was sent to jail in the [first place] was his journalist activity -- because he is an outspoken critic of President [Ilham] Aliyev and his government."

Fatullayev, who was the editor in chief of the "Realny Azerbaijan" newspaper, made a three-hour speech in court on July 2 in which he urged the lead judge, Ismayil Khalilov, not to follow "political orders" and to make an independent ruling on his case.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled in April that Fatullayev should be released from prison and paid 25,000 euros (about $33,000) in compensation. Azerbaijani government officials have said they will appeal that ruling.

The latest ruling against Fatullayev comes two days after a visit to Baku by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.