Wednesday, February 4

Prisoners of consciousness

Azerbaijan- one of the 59 member states of OSCE- has the highest number of arrested journalists (statement by Miklos Haraszti, special representative for media freedoms of OSCE's- He added that journalists in Azerbaijan are arrested every time they write about corruption or criticize authorities.

Reporters Without Borders (Paris- based media rights watchdog) included the Azerbaijani leader on its list of "Media Predators". 

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) calls the human rights situation in Azerbaijan 'deteriorating' ( And while it demanded release of three journalists- Eynulla Fatullayev, Sakit Zahidov (pen name Mirza Sakit), Ganimat Zahid- they are still in prison and it doesn't seem like they will be pardoned anytime soon.

These and other criticisms, do not stop Azerbaijani government to claim otherwise: "All the problems with regard to media were solved with coming to the office of Ilham Aliyev in 2003" stated Ali Hasanov, head of the presidential administration's political department in May 2007.

The state further claims that these journalists are not political prisoners and that their arrests are not politically motivated ( 

The case of Eynulla Fatullayev is by far one of the worst. The founder and chief of Realniy Azerbaijan and Gundelik Azerbaijan newspapers was sentenced to 8.5 years in prison. Below is a summary of charges:

"In September 2006, a court handed Fatullayev a two- year suspended sentence in three criminal defamation cases brought against him by the minister of the interior. He was also ordered to pay damages to the latter. He was again convicted in April 2007 for criminal libel and insult, this time for an article that baled Azerbaijanis for the 1992 massacre of Azeris in Nagorno- Karabakh. Though Fatullayev denied writing of this peace, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison. As it all of this was not enough, Fatullayev was convicted for the third time in October 2007, on charges of terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred and tax evasion, and sentenced to eight and a half years in prison" ( 

His father claimed immediate release of his son, saying Eynulla was a "prisoner of conscience". Aren't we all are? Trapped in our own minds of ideas, thoughts and views but living in fear of talking out loud and expressing our views freely?  

Whether Eynulla and other journalists will be released is yet to see. Their imprisonment is not stopping them from being recognized outside of Azerbaijan however. On April 24, 2008, all three journalists were awarded Hellmann/Hammett grants on recognition of their journalism (the awards are administered by Human Rights Watch).  

It looks like our prisoners of consciousness will have to endure their punishments for now and patiently wait for their release...

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