An Azerbaijani journalist who emerged defiant after years in jail over statements he made about an emotionally charged mass killing incident has been named this year’s winner of an annual United Nations prize that honors promoters of freedom of expression.
UNESCO announced that Eynulla Fatullayev was the laureate of its World Press Freedom Prize, saying: “Throughout his career, he has unfailingly and steadfastly spoken out for freedom of the press and freedom of expression.”
"I'm very happy, and to my mind [the award] is giving me responsibility not only for my past activity but for my future activity too," Fatullayev told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service after the announcement.
Fatullayev, 35, was once the co-editor of two influential opposition newspapers -- the Russian-language weekly "Realny Azerbaijan" and the Azeri-language daily "Gundelik Azerbaycan."
He was jailed in 2007 after being convicted on charges relating to comments on the Khojaly massacre, a mass killing of ethnic Azeris in the emotionally fraught Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
An additional two years were added to Fatullayev’s sentence after authorities said they found heroin in his cell.
He was released from prison by a presidential pardon in May 2011 after spending some four years in jail. He cited Soviet writer and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and American writer Ernest Hemingway's aphorism that "A man can be destroyed but not defeated" as particular inspirations during his ordeal.
He complained that President Ilham Aliyev had reduced his country to a "political desert."
Media rights groups had accused authorities of seeking to silence the journalist, who turned into a symbol of Azerbaijan's crackdown on freedom of expression.
In July 2011, Fatullayev founded the nongovernmental human rights organization Public Union For Human Rights.
The prize will be handed over to Fatullayev in a ceremony to be held on World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
The award's official title is the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. It is named after a Colombian journalist murdered in 1986 after denouncing the activities of powerful drug barons in that country.
The prize was created in 1997 to honor the work of an individual or organization defending or promoting freedom of expression, especially if such action puts that person or group at extreme risk.
Previous recipients include Iran’s Ahmad Zeidabadi (2011) and the late Anna Politkovskaya of Russia (2007).
With additional reporting by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service and AFP