January 7, 2008

His Excellency Heydar Aliyev
President of the Azerbaijan Republic
19 Istiglaliyyat Street
Baku AZ1066
Fax: 011 994 12 92-0625

His Excellency Lt.-Gen. Ramil Usubov
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Husu Hajiyev Street 7
370005 Baku
Fax: 011 994 12 92 45 90

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,400 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we welcome the release following a pardon by the Azerbaijani President of five journalists, including honorary member of English PEN Rafiq Tagi on December 28, 2007. However, PEN continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Eynulla Fatullayev, Sakit Zakhidov (Mirza Sakit), Ganimat Zakhidov (Zahid), and Mushfig Huseynov who remain detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

According to our information, Eynulla Fatullayev, editor of independent Russian-language weekly Realny Azerbaijan and the Azeri-language daily Gundalik Azarbaycan and honorary member of English PEN, is being detained on charges of defamation, terrorism, incitement to ethnic hatred, and tax evasion. Ganimet Zakhidov, editor of the prominent opposition daily Azadlig (Freedom), was placed in pretrial detention in November 2007 for “hooliganism.”  His brother Sakit Zakhidov is serving a three-year sentence on the false charge of drug possession. Mushfig Huseynov was sentenced to three months’ pretrial detention in July 2007 for allegedly accepting a bribe. This was extended in October and is due to expire on January 24, 2008.

PEN welcomes the freedom granted to the five journalists, but expresses serious disappointment that Mr. Fatullayev, Mr. Zakhidov, Mr. Zakhidov, and Mr. Huseynov remain detained. The continued detention of these four journalists indicates the ongoing hostility toward independent and opposition media by the Azerbaijani authorities in a country where defamation and false charges are increasingly used to silence dissenting voice.  We view the detention of these journalists as a direct violation of their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Azerbaijan is a signatory, and therefore renew our call for the immediate release of Eynulla Fatullayev, Sakit Zakhidov (Mirza Sakit), Ganimat Zakhidov (Zahid), and Mushfig Huseynov.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Hannah Pakula                 
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee   

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: His Excellency Hafiz Mir Jalal Pashayev
Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the US:
2741 34th St., NW
Washington, DC 20005
Fax: (202) 337-5911

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