Just two days after the UK branch of Amnesty International launched its Twitter campaign to call for the release of Eynulla Fatullayev comes news that the imprisoned journalist and prisoner of conscience has been included in a list of prisoners to be pardoned ahead of the 93rd anniversary of the founding of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, writes Onnik Krikorian in Global Voices.
His release was welcomed by many in Azerbaijan and also by international media groups that had for years campaigned on his behalf, reports RFE/RL.
Speaking to RFE/RL less than two hours after being freed, Fatullayev said he believes those efforts played a key role in the government’s decision to set him free.
“The activities of the International community helped me of course. [First of all] I would like to say thank you to Amnesty International, because during the past four years it continued its complicated mission [to push] for my release,” he said.
Fatullayev added that his unexpected freedom felt like “a miracle” that was difficult to understand.
“I’m still trying to [understand] the situation,” he said. “It’s a miracle for me. I couldn’t imagine it. It’s a real surprise for me.”
Fatullayev, editor of the now closed newspaper “Realny Azerbaijan,” was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to 2.5 years in jail for a series of articles titled “Karabakh Diary.” Later, additional charges of tax evasion and slandering the army were brought against him and he was sentenced to 8.5 years in jail.
Media watchdogs believe the charges were fabricated in retaliation for Fatullayev’s articles, including his investigation into the unsolved murder of a prominent journalist Elnar Huseynov, who was gunned down in 2005.
In 2010, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Fatullayev should be released and paid 25,000 euros in compensation, saying that the government of Azerbaijan had violated his rights to freedom of expression and a fair trial.
Azerbajian’s top court upheld the European court ruling and overturned his conviction. But it left in place a separate two-and-a-half-year jail sentence imposed by a lower court in 2009 for possession of illegal drugs while in prison.