NEW YORK—Azerbaijani authorities’ detention of writer Akram Aylisli at Baku airport last week showcases the government’s continuing quashing of the right to free expression in the central Asian nation, despite the release of 16 political prisoners earlier this month, said PEN America in a statement today.

In the early morning of March 30, 2016, the novelist, poet, and playwright Akram Aylisli arrived at Baku airport for his flight to Venice for the Incroci di Civiltà literary festival. Police detained Aylisli at the airport and forced him to miss his flight. Police falsely accused 78-year-old Aylisli, who suffers from poor health and a heart condition, of creating a public disturbance, hindering the work of border guards, assaulting a border guard, and harassing other passengers. Police interrogated Aylisli throughout the day and held him for 10 hours.

“The Azerbaijani authorities’ detention of Akram Aylisli represents an orchestrated and continuous effort to crush the expression of a celebrated writer,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “This vengeful act undermines any progress made by a government that recently released 16 political prisoners. The blatant disrespect for free expression in Azerbaijan continues as writers like Aylisli and Khadija Ismayilova pay the price for telling the uncomfortable truth.”

Aylisli, who received the national accolade of People’s Writer and is a 2014 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, was a nationally revered writer before the 2012 publication of his novella Stone Dreams. The novella explores the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the 20th century and tells of the massacres of Armenians by Azeris. This contributed to a campaign of persecution against Aylisli that started in February 2013: President Aliyev stripped Aylisli of his title of People’s Writer and $1,250 a month pension, Aylisli’s son and wife lost their jobs, schools removed Aylisli’s writing from classrooms, and a lawmaker promised a bounty to any person who would cut off Aylisli’s ear.

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Founded in 1922, PEN America is an association of 4,400 U.S. writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. www.PEN.org

CONTACT
Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: +1 646-779-4830, sedkins@pen.org