April 22, 2009

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

Lt.-Gen. Ramil Usubov  
Minister of Internal Affairs                                                                                
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 welcome the release of writers Sakit Zakhidov and Ali Hasanov.

According to our information, poet, journalist, and satirist Sakit Zakhidov was freed on April 9, 2009, after the government granted him amnesty. Zakhidov, who works for the newspaper Azadlygt, was first arrested on June 24, 2006. On October 4, 2006, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on drug charges that were widely believed to be falsified. During the trial, the Public Prosecutor announced that there was no evidence to support the claim that Zakhidov was selling drugs and requested that the charges be changed to drug use. However, he was still convicted to the maximum sentence for drug use under the law. Zakhidov is known for his satirical poetry. One of his poems, which focused on the personality cult surrounding the late President Heidar Aliyev, contained comments that some analysts believed to be slanderous. 

Ali Hasanov was granted amnesty and released on April 15, 2009. Hasanov, the editor-in-chief of the daily Ideal, was arrested and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment on defamation charges on November 16, 2008. The case was filed by a Nagorno-Karabakh war veteran who alleged that two articles published in Ideal harmed her honor and dignity. There are reports that the articles in question were written by an individual using a pseudonym. Hasanov was released after serving five months of the six month sentence.

Although PEN American Center is glad to hear that both Sakit Zakhidov and Ali Hasanov have been freed, we are deeply concerned by the multiple attacks on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government has recently detained a number of influential journalists, including Eynulla Fatullayev, Novruzali Mamedov and Ganimat Zakhidov, Sakit Zakhidov’s brother. We believe these writers have been targeted in violation of their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Azerbaijan is a signatory. We therefore call for the immediate and unconditional release of the journalists named above, as well as the release of all others held in violation 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: 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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