October 29, 2008

President Ilham Aliyev
The President Palace
19 Istiqlaliyyat Street                                                                                 
Baku, AZ1066
Republic of Azerbaijan                                                                                     
Fax: + 994 12 492 0625   

Minister of Internal Affairs
Lt.-Gen. Ramil Usubov                                                                                     
Ministry of Internal Affairs                                                                                    
7 Husu Hajiyev Street
Baku, 370005
Republic of Azerbaijan                                
Fax:  + 994 12 492 4590

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our serious concern for the well being of dissident poet, satirist and journalist Sakit Mirza Zakhidov

According to our information, Sakit Mirza Zakhidov was receiving treatment for long standing heart disease at the Justice Ministry Penitentiary Services’ Treatment Facility until October 18, 2008, when he was returned to Prison #14 in Baku without having finished it. Zakhidov’s wife reported that he was also beaten in the kidneys and stomach by the management chief and his colleagues. It is said that the assault could be linked to the publication of his poem “Ilhamla Ireli,” written in prison and published in the pro-opposition newspaper Azadlig on the day of Azerbaijani Presidential elections, October 15, 2008. Reports by delegates from the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Norwegian, French and US embassies, who held a closed meeting in prison with Zakhidov on October 29, 2008, suggest that although his condition has improved, he remains unwell. Zakhidov was sentenced to three years in prison on October 4, 2006 on drug charges, which are widely considered to be fabricated.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned about the reports that Sakit Mirza Zakhidov was assaulted upon his premature transfer from prison medical center and urges that these allegations are fully and independently investigated. We seek assurances of Mr. Zakhidov’s well-being, and respectfully call for his immediate and unconditional release if held in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Azerbaijan is a signatory. Furthermore, we call on for an end to the imprisonment and harassment of journalists in Azerbaijan in the practice of their right to freedom of expression.

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: Ambassador Ilham Aliyev
Embassy of Azerbaijan to the United States
2741 34th Street NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax (202) 337-5911

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