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Rights Activists Urge Council Of Europe Action On Azerbaijani's Release

Eynulla Fatullayev in a Baku court in April
Officials from four human rights organizations will meet with Council of Europe officials in Strasbourg to discuss the case of imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Fatullayev remains jailed despite a European Court of Human Rights judgment in April that ordered the Azerbaijani government to release him and pay him 25,000 euros ($31,000) in compensation.

Rebecca Vincent, Europe program manager for the media rights organization Article 19, told RFE/RL that a delegation of four NGOs would meet with Council of Europe experts and country delegations during the human rights meeting of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers that starts today and continues until December 3.

She said the NGOs would raise their concerns about the failure of Baku officials to release Fatullayev despite the European court decision.

Vincent said Council of Europe member states could not "continue to turn a blind eye to Azerbaijan's alarming freedom-of-expression record."

She added that "we expect Azerbaijan to face some serious questioning from its peers in the Council of Europe and hopefully for the matter to be referred back to the courts so they can examine Azerbaijan's compliance in this case."

Florian Irminger, head of the Geneva office of the Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF), said in a statement that the "Committee of Ministers needs to recall [Azerbaijan's] obligation to abide by the judgments of the European Court and that such is unconditional and is a requirement for the membership of the Council of Europe."

Along with Article 19 and HRHF, Reporters Without Borders and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers are part of the so-called International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan that is meeting with Council of Europe officials.

Final Decision

In addition to the deteriorating freedom of expression situation in the country marked by the criminalization of defamation, systematic acts of violence against journalists critical of the government, and a pervasive climate of impunity, Azerbaijan has a poor record of implementing European Court rulings.

In this particular case, the European Court ordered the immediate release of Fatullayev, which is exceptional as the court does not usually order the release of individuals.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg rules on member countries' compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. Adherence to the court's decisions is a requirement for Council of Europe member states.

The European Court ruled on April 22 that by imprisoning Fatullayev, Azerbaijani officials had violated his rights to freedom of expression and a fair trial. It called for his immediate release.

But instead of releasing him, the authorities continued prosecuting him on a new charge of illegal drug possession, for which he was convicted in July.

On October 4, the European Court decision became final and legally binding after the court's Grand Chamber rejected the Azerbaijani government's request for the ruling to be reviewed.

An Azerbaijani court ruled on November 19 that opposition blogger Emin Milli be released from prison, one day after fellow blogger Adnan Hajizada was also ordered released.

The two had been jailed for more than a year on hooliganism charges. Their cases received international attention and supporters claimed the charges were politically motivated.