Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of the independent Russian-language weekly Realny Azerbaijan and the weekly Azeri-language daily Gündalik Azarbaycan, told presiding judge Hamid Hamidov that he has been kept in inhumane conditions since his transfer to the National Security Prison from the Bailov Prison in Baku on May 29.
"For nine days, I have been hungry and thirsty," Fatullayev was quoted as saying by the Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety, a local press freedom group. The journalist has been forced to sleep on an iron bed without a mattress and has received multiple death threats from unknown persons, according to the Moscow-based news agency Regnum and local press reports.
The judge upheld his libel conviction in the court session Wednesday. CPJ called on Azerbaijani authorities to investigate the threats and release Fatullayev from prison.
"The Azerbaijani government jailed Eynulla Fatullayev on a spurious libel charge, then filed a vague terrorist charge against him, and harassed and intimidated his staff to the point they could no longer work. Now they have forced him to suffer while in their custody," said Joel Simon, CPJ's executive director. "We call on the Azerbaijani authorities to end their relentless persecution of a critical journalist and release Eynulla immediately."
National Security Ministry spokesperson Arif Babayev dismissed the journalist's statements, calling them a "subjective opinion," the news Web site Lenta reported. "Former ministers have served time in our cells and they didn't complain," Lenta quoted Babayev as saying.
In April, Fatullayev was sentenced to 30 months in prison on charges of libeling and insulting Azerbaijanis by saying in an Internet posting that Azerbaijanis were responsible for the 1992 massacre of residents of Khodjali, a town in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh claimed by both Armenia and Azerbaijan. In a March interview with CPJ, Fatullayev said he never made the Khodjali statement, which was later posted on other Web sites.
Authorities filed an additional charge of terrorism against Fatullayev on May 22. Government officials claim the journalist, a persistent government critic, assisted Armenian Special Forces, but they have not elaborated on the charge, according to CPJ sources and local press reports. The new charges came only days after fire officials sealed the papers' offices, claiming the building housing the publications violated fire safety regulations.
CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.