Europe's human rights court on Thursday ruled that Azerbaijan's imprisonment of a journalist was illegal, in a case his lawyers say points to the erosion of human rights in the oil-producing Caucasus state.
Rights watchdogs say several similar cases indicate the intolerance of dissent in the mainly Muslim state, tightly run by Ilham Aliyev since taking over from his father in 2003.
Eynulla Fatullayev was imprisoned in April 2007 and sentenced to eight and a half years in jail on charges of terrorism, incitement of ethnic hatred and tax evasion.
In December 2009 new charges of possession of illegal drugs were brought against him.
Opposition politicians and rights groups say all charges against Fatullayev, an editor and writer with the popular opposition newspaper "Real Azerbaijan" that is critical of the authorities, were fabricated.
Officials in Azerbaijan -- courted by the West and Russia for its Caspian Sea energy reserves -- deny the case is politically motivated.
"Apart from a decision that his (Fatullayev's) imprisonment is illegal, the European Court has told Azerbaijan to pay him compensation of 25,000 euros," Isakhan Ashurov, a member of the journalist's defence team, told Reuters.
Azeri officials confirmed the decision was made by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, but denied its implementation was binding.
"The legislation of Azerbaijan does not envisage the release of a convicted person based on the decision of the European Court," Chingiz Askerov, Azerbaijan's representative to the European Court of Human Rights, said in a statement.
Ashurov said his next legal move depended on how the authorities respond, but doubted if Fatullayev would be freed, referring to the statement by the country's representative to the court.
Two other journalists are imprisoned in Azerbaijan and two opposition bloggers, imprisoned last year, had their appeal rejected last month.
ReutersLast Mod: 23 Nisan 2010, 10:21