The United States Wednesday voiced concern at the new criminal conviction and sentencing of a jailed Azerbaijani journalist and said the ex-Soviet republic had made a misstep.
“The United States is concerned by (Tuesday’s) court ruling” in Baku that sentenced Eynullah Fatullayev to a further two-and-a-half years in prison on criminal drug possession charges, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
Echoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s concerns over freedom of speech in Azerbaijan during a visit to Baku on Sunday, Toner said Fatullayev’s conviction “is not a step in the right direction.”
Already serving an 11.5-year prison sentence since 2007 for allegedly writing about a massacre of Armenians by Azerbaijani soldiers during the war in Nagorny Karabakh in the early 1990s, Fatullayev was given an additional 2.5 years on Tuesday for drug possession.
Toner said the new charges were described by an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) representative as “highly improbable.”
The United States, he said, joined the OSCE representative “and others in calling for (Fatullayev’s) release.”
Toner urged Azerbaijan’s government to “fully respect press freedoms, including the right of reporters to investigate and freely publish…”
“As a partner,” he added, “the United States stands ready to assist the people and government of Azerbaijan in making the necessary reforms for democratic and economic progress.
“The conviction of Eynullah Fatullayev is not a step in the right direction.”