US concerned by new sentencing of Azeri journalist

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WASHINGTON, Nov 2 (Reuters) The United States expressed concern over the new and tougher sentence imposed on an Azerbaijan journalist already imprisoned on terrorism charges.

An Azeri court on Tuesday sentenced journalist Einulla Fatullayev to 8-1/2 years in prison, quadrupling his present sentence.

''This sentence to eight and a half years in prison on charges of terrorism appears to be an attempt to silence criticism and stifle free speech,'' State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in a statement yesterday.

Fatullayev, a critic of the Azeri government, was found guilty and sent to prison for 2-1/2 years in April for defaming the former Soviet republic's army in an article alleging the mass killing of civilians in a 1992-94 war against separatists.

''Prosecuting Mr. Fatullayev under anti-terrorism laws indicates a fear of the fundamental freedom of speech that is sharply at odds with the government of Azerbaijan's professed desire to develop democratic institutions,'' Casey said.

The latest verdicts against Fatullayev concern stories he wrote that prosecutors said whipped up racial hatred as well as an article listing buildings that could be bombed by Iran in a future conflict.

Fatullayev's lawyer, Isakhan Ashurov, said his client was innocent and they would appeal the verdict at the European Court.

Reuters BJR VP0645

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