Strasbourg: Human rights meeting of the Committee of Ministers’ Deputies, 30 November – 3 December.

The Committee of Ministers’ Deputies are set to discuss the case of imprisoned Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, who remains in jail despite a European Court of Human Rights judgment on 22 April ordering the Azerbaijani government to release him immediately.

“The ongoing imprisonment of investigative journalist Eynulla Fatullayev is totemic of the Azerbaijani government’s disregard for its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Council of Europe Member States cannot continue to turn a blind eye to Azerbaijan’s alarming freedom of expression record,” said Rebecca Vincent, Europe Program Manager of ARTICLE 19.

“Given the clear court order to release journalist Fatullayev, the Committee of Ministers needs to recall the State's obligation to abide by the judgments of the Court and that such is unconditional and is a requirement for the membership of the Council of Europe,” said Florian Irminger, Head of the Geneva office of the Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF).

Representatives from four international non-governmental organizations will undertake a joint advocacy mission to the Council of Europe during the Ministers’ Deputies meeting to raise their serious concerns regarding freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, particularly the Azerbaijani government’s non-compliance with the European Court’s ruling in Fatullayev’s case. The participating organizations, which are members of the International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan, include ARTICLE 19, the Human Rights House Foundation, Reporters Without Borders, and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

“The organizations call upon the Committee of Ministers to carefully consider Eynulla Fatullayev’s case during the upcoming meeting and to adopt strong interim measures taking note that no measures have been taken to comply with the Fatullayev case judgment,” said Lucie Morillon of Reporters Without Borders.

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. Adherence to European Court decisions is a requirement for Council of Europe Member States, including Azerbaijan.

The European Court of Human Rights is the ultimate arbiter of compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. On 22 April, the European Court ruled that Azerbaijan had violated Fatullayev's rights to freedom of expression and to a fair trial by imprisoning him, and called for his immediate release. However, rather than releasing him, authorities proceeded with a new charge against Fatullayev of possessing illegal drugs, for which he was convicted on 6 July. The charge was widely believed to have been fabricated in order to keep him in prison despite the European Court’s judgment in his case. On 4 October, the decision became final and legally binding on Azerbaijan, after the European Court's Grand Chamber rejected the Azerbaijani government’s request for the review of the decision.

The deteriorating freedom of expression situation in the country was magnified during the period surrounding Azerbaijan’s 7 November parliamentary elections. The lack of political pluralism in the broadcast media in the per-elections period, the continued imprisonment of journalists and bloggers critical of the government during the elections, and authorities’ interference with journalists’ coverage of election day proceedings were heavily condemned by a group of nine international non-governmental organizations, including those undertaking the mission to Strasbourg. Three of the organizations participated in an international freedom of expression mission to Azerbaijan in September, which released a report titled Free Expression under Attack: Azerbaijan’s Deteriorating Media Environment.
Source: Joint press release by Article 19, Reporters Without Borders, WAN IRFA, Human Rights Watch Foundation

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