Ahead of tonight's Amnesty International Media Awards 2011, the organisation has launched a Twitter photo campaign to call for the release of an imprisoned journalist and newspaper editor in Azerbaijan. Eynulla Fatullayev was sentenced in 2007 to eight and a half years in prison, on charges that international human rights and media monitoring groups consider to be politically motivated.
Amnesty International declared Fatullayev to be a prisoner of conscience and in April 2010 the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of his immediate release. The Council of Europe supported the decision.
However, although the Azerbaijani Supreme Court revoked the charges against Fatullayev at the end of last year it instead resurrected another previous charge of defamation and also one of drugs possession while in prison. Again, human rights groups considered the charges to be fabricated with the intention of keeping Fatullayev, perhaps the most outspoken critic in the oil-rich former Soviet republic, behind bars.
As a result, in recent months, Amnesty International has become more active in campaigning for his release. Today, however, the United Kingdom branch of the international human rights group used micro-blogging site Twitter to do so:
Two years ago at the Amnesty UK Media Awards, we honoured Azerbaijani newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev with the AIUK Special Award for Journalism Under Threat. Eynulla is an outspoken journalist who has been imprisoned since 2007 on a series of trumped up charges, including defamation, terrorism and incitement to ethnic hatred.
Even though the European Court of Human Rights have quashed some of the charges and called for his release, he remains under lock and key on a more recent conviction for drugs possession brought to dodge the ECHR ruling. We firmly believe that all the charges against Eynulla have been fabricated to silence his critical reporting of the Azerbaijani government, and that Eynulla is a prisoner of conscience.
As we prepare for the 2011 Media Awards, we’re renewing our calls to free Eynulla Fatullayev with a twitter action led by Channel 4’s Jon Snow. Journalists will be taking the action at tonight’s awards – we need you to join them.
Indeed, a dedicated tweep, the Channel 4 anchor set the ball rolling although most of those supporting the action didn't tweet any pictures preferring to instead re-tweet others or to send their own message of support.
@jonsnow: Support us! :I’m calling on @presidentaz to free wrongly imprisoned journalist #Eynulla Fatullayev in #azerbaijan http://yfrog.com/h7lf39j
As some Twitter users joined the campaign, however, government supporters in Azerbaijan, especially those part of the İRƏLİ Public Youth Union, reacted harshly. This was particular true for İRƏLİ's Secretary General Rauf Mardiyev who in recent months has been particularly active in getting his members to flood Twitter with tweets in order to drown out alternative voices in Azerbaijan.
Jon Snow, however, was quick to respond.
@raufmardiyev: @jonsnowC4 @presidentaz if you are that fair then start a campaign over oppupied #Karabakh! #Azerbaijan
@raufmardiyev: @jonsnowC4 @presidentaz and it will be better if you stop blurring the image of #Azerbaijan
@jonsnowC4: Wow! We have got under your skin Mr Mardiyev! Release this editor and live proud: his detention disgraces your President and you!
Other İRƏLİ members also weighed in.
@Eldar_Mirze: @jonsnowC4 We will not fall a victim to your propaganda!
@jonsnowC4: @Eldar_Mirze Eldar, anyone who needs to Tweet the same subject eleven times in 3 minutes has something to hide: FREE #Eynulla Fatullayev!
It wasn't all criticism from Azerbaijan, however, with many Azerbaijani progressive youth activists joining the campaign. They included Parvana Persiani, youth leader and partner of recently released video blogging youth activist Adnan Hajizada, and Global Voices’ own Leyla Najafli. Both were particularly delighted to see the involvement of Jon Snow.
@parvanapersiani: @jonsnowC4 done. with love from Azerbaijan!
@leylanajafli: I HEART @jonsnowc4 – thank you for bringing attention to this case! And thank you @amnesty ! #FreeEynulla
@FuserLimon: @presidentaz Adnan Hajizada urges you to free wrongly imprisoned journalist #Eynulla Fatullayev in #Azerbaijan
@turkhankarim: @presidentaz #Eynulla Fatullayevi Azad Et! — Free Eynulla Fatullayev! — #Azerbaijan
@reader_in_baku: I am calling @presidentaz but he doesnt pick up. Dude, FREE #EYNULLA FATULLAYEV NOW!
Somewhat alarmingly, though, in an attempt to counter the campaign, presumably pro-government supporters appeared to then Photoshop images of some of Amnesty's supporters in response. One of them featured Private Eye editor Ian Hislop in a poor attempt at image manipulation.
Amnesty International informed its Twitter followers:
@AmnestyUK: You're really having an affect with our #eynulla action, pro-azerbaijani tweeters are photoshopping our images. Imitation is flattery…
According to Amnesty International UK, the Twitter action and tonight's Media Awards will be used to increase momentum in the campaign to have Eynulla Fatullayev released from prison. For those interested in supporting the call, the hashtag #Eynulla is being used on Twitter.