International human rights groups have called on the Azerbaijani authorities to release editor Eynulla Fatullayev from prison in line with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.
Fatullayev is serving an 8 1/2-year sentence for defamation, instigation of terror, and tax evasion. He is currently on trial on charges of illegal possession of drugs while in prison.
In its April 22 ruling, the Strasbourg-based ECHR found that Azerbaijan "grossly" and "disproportionately" restricted freedom of expression by imprisoning Fatullayev, one of the country's most outspoken journalists.
In an exceptional move, the court also ordered his immediate release.
"This ruling should end the terrible miscarriage of justice against Fatullayev," said Giorgi Gogia, the South Caucasus researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Now the Azerbaijani authorities need to set him free."
"The Azerbaijani government needs to stop punishing people for expressing their views. And it needs to abolish criminal libel laws," Gogia added.
Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, called on the Azerbaijani authorities on April 23 to comply with the ECHR ruling and immediately release Fatullayev.
Reporters Without Borders has likewise urged the Azerbaijani government to comply with the court ruling. "Fatullayev must be released without delay and all the other charges pending against him must be dropped," it said in a statement.
Reporters Without Borders also appealed to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and to Ali Hasanov, the head of the president's Ideology Department, to end the prosecution of journalists.
Natalia Nozadze, Amnesty International's researcher on Azerbaijan, said, "Azerbaijan should take this opportunity to show it is willing to bring to an end its reputation for silencing dissenting voices and imprisoning those who speak out against the government."
Amnesty considers Fatullayev a prisoner of conscience.
Fatullayev is the founder and editor in chief of the popular newspapers "Realny Azerbaijan" and "Gundelik Azerbaijan."
He was first jailed in 2007 for allegedly insulting Azerbaijanis killed by Armenian forces in the February 1992 Khojali massacre.