Fatullayev founded and was the editor-in-chief of two of the largest and most popular newspapers in the country – Gundelik Azerbaijan, or Azerbaijan Daily, and Realny Azerbaijan, or Real Azerbaijan. The original civil and criminal charges against him stem from a 2005 newspaper article and internet posting about the 1992 Khojali massacre that took place during the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The article questioned the version of the Khojali events commonly accepted in Azerbaijan.
Fatullayev, had been serving an eight-and-a-half year sentence since April 2007 on politically-motivated and unsubstantiated charges of criminal defamation, threatening terrorism, inciting ethnic hatred, and tax evasion.
In April 2010 the European Court of Human Rights claimed that Azerbaijan had violated Fatullayev’s right to freedom of expression in a largely disproportionate manner by imprisoning him, and called for his immediate release.
On November 11, 2010, the Supreme Court reviewed Fatullayev’s case, clearing him of some of the convictions, but authorities attempted to continue his detention by filing charges of drug possession against him while he was in prison.
Prior to 2007 case, Fatullayev had faced threats, attacks, and prosecution, apparently in retaliation for his writing. In July 2004, he was severely beaten in what appears to have been retaliation for an article criticizing the government.
In October 2006, Fatullayev was forced to suspend publication of both newspapers briefly after his father was kidnapped. The kidnappers threatened to kill him and his father if Fatullayev continued to publish.
Human Rights Watch cliams Fatullayev’s case is one of many in a broader government campaign to restrict freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. Giorgi Gogia, researcher at Human Right Watch stated, ”Freedom of expression, particularly if it challenges the government, is still under serious assault in Azerbaijan.”