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Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev waves to onlookers from his home in Baku after his release from prison in May 2011.
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."

RFE/RL interviews Fatullayev after his 2011 release from prison

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
Sabina Babayeva is Azerbaijan's entry for Eurovision.
A new video campaign is turning up the heat on this year's Eurovision Song Contest host Azerbaijan over the country's dubious human rights record.

After winning the 2011 contest, Azerbaijan earns the right to host the May 22-26 competition, which is one of the most-watched TV events in the world and known for its mix of kitschy pop music and garish costumes.

Sing for Democracy, a group based in Baku, is asking people to sign a petition calling on contestants to support human rights in Azerbaijan.

The video begins by showing the glitzy, modern side of Baku, before highlighting the unsolved murders and imprisonment of journalists, the controversial demolitions of Baku homes, and the brutal suppression of peaceful demonstrations.

If Eurovision entrants wanted any ideas on how to make a political statement, a poll on the Sing for Democracy website suggests they could dedicate their songs to human rights or wear clothes featuring images of political prisoners.

One of those mentioned in the campaign video is Khadija Ismayilova, an RFE/RL freelancer and investigative journalist, who was recently the target of a blackmail attempt after she received written threats and an intimate video of her was published on the Internet.

Azerbaijan has spent huge amounts of money in recent years rejuvenating the capital, Baku, much of it being spent on grandiose construction projects.

Human Rights Watch has criticized Azerbaijan for "the forcible eviction of residents to demolish the last standing building in the neighborhood of the capital, Baku, where the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest is to be held."

A woman stands near a demolished house in Baku last month.
A woman stands near a demolished house in Baku last month.
Amnesty International has also criticized the Azerbaijani authorities, saying that the contest should "lift the glitzy curtains" and expose the corruption, torture, ill-treatment, and unfair trials of dissidents in Azerbaijan.

An Amnesty campaign video, called "It's time for Azerbaijan to earn some points for human rights," similarly juxtaposes images of gleaming Azerbaijan -- where everyone is driving sports cars and sipping champagne on yachts -- with footage of police breaking up protests.

If the campaigns do convince some of the Eurovision performers to take a stand it could result in some embarrassing moments for the Azerbaijani hosts.

Last week, British songstress Sandie Shaw, who won the contest with "Puppet On A String" in 1967, joined the voices calling on Azerbaijan to put an end to media repression and rights violations.

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About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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