Azerbaijan: Extended Pre Trial Detentions

Pre trial detention of Writer Rafiq Tagi and Newspaper Editor Samir Sadagatoglu extended

In December 2006, PEN issued an alert protesting the imprisonment of writer Rafiq Tagi, and editor Samir Sadagatoglu,  for an article comparing European and Islamic traditions, and its alarm that religious extremists have called for their execution.  English PEN welcomes the strong statements from the Azeri authorities opposing the threats, but is concerned that on 12 January the Nasimi District Court ruled that the two men should remain in pre-trial detention for a further two months. They have already been held for two months without trial and now could be held until  mid March. English PEN continues to call for the release of Rafiq Tagi and Samir Sadagatoglu, that they be protected from attack and that any person who threatens their lives be brought to prosecution.

Background

On 1 November 2006, a small Azerbaijan newspaper, Sanat, published an article entitled “Europe and Us” comparing European and Islamic traditions in which it was suggested that Islam had hindered progress in the development of Muslim states such as Azerbaijan. This article led to outrage among Muslim conservative groups and the subsequent arrest of the newspaper’s editor Samir Sadagatoglu, and the author of the article, Rafiq Tagi (also referred to as Taghizad). On 15 November, the Nasimi District Court in the Azerbaijan capital, Baku, charged the two men under Article 283 of the Criminal Code with inciting national, racial and religious enmity and ordered to be held in pre-trial detention for up to two months, extended for a further two months in January 2007.  If convicted, they face between three and five years in prison.

However this action did little to appease those who objected to the article and on 17 November. Conservative Muslims based in Nadaran, a town situated north of the capital Baku, held protests during which death threats were made against Sadagatoglu, Tagi and their families. Tagi denies that the article had slandered or insulted Islam or the Prophet Mohammed.

As the days passed, the protests spread not only to other areas of Azerbaijan, but also into neighbouring Iran, where protestors gathered outside the Azerbaijan embassy in Teheran. By late November, the situation for the journalists deteriorated further when the Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani, based in Iran, issued a fatwa (religious decree) ordering that the two men be executed. Another Iranian cleric based in the Tebriz area of Iran where there is a significant Azeri population, also reportedly offered his house as a reward for the death of the two men. However not all support the fatwa, and there have been counter protests by Muslim groups in Azerbaijan stating Sadagatoglu and Tagi have the right to express their views and voicing concern about what they consider to be undue influence of the more conservative members of the religious community over the country’s affairs.

The Azerbaijan Prosecutor General’s office has also made clear its opposition to the death threats in a press statement which said “We live in a constitutional state and all issues should be solved by law,” adding that the death threats are “unacceptable”, and that police protection was being provided to the two men’s families.

Meanwhile the Sadagatoglu and Tagi remain detained and their families under police protection. According to the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, Taghizad, who is also a cardiologist, is not unused to controversy. His views are said to often conflict with those of general public opinion, and he has in the past written biting articles against Azerbaijan’s leading poet, Samed Vurgun, the chairman of the Azerbaijan Writers Union, and others.

For further information go to EurasiaNet  www.eurasianet.org and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting www.iwpr.org.

English PEN considers the detention  of Rafiq Tagi and Samir Sadagatoglu  to be in direct violation of their right to freedom of expression and is calling for their release. PEN is appalled by calls that the two men be executed and the threats made against their families. It welcomes that the Azerbaijan Prosecutor General’s office has made clear its opposition to the calls for the two men’s death, and that protection is being provided to the families. However PEN is also concerned that their imprisonment for an article published in a newspaper is in clear breach of international standards protecting the right to freedom of expression, notably Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Azerbaijan is a signatory. It is therefore calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

Please send appeals:

 – Expressing alarm at the death threats made against writer Rafiq Tagi and editor Samir Sadagatoglu and welcoming the Azerbaijan Prosecutor General’s statement that clearly indicates opposition to such calls;

– Pointing out that their detention and possible trial for an article, while containing comments that some may find uncomfortable, that falls within the bounds of legitimate comment and that they are therefore held in violation of their right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by international human rights instruments to which Azerbaijan is a signatory;

– Calling for their release and for continued protection for their families and themselves against attack.

                     

Addresses

President

President Ilham Aliyev

Office of the President of the Azerbaijan Republic

19 Istiqlaliyyat Street

Baku AZ1066 Azerbaijan

Fax: 00 994 12 492 0625

Email: president@gov.az

Minister of Internal Affairs

Lt.-Gen. Ramil Usubov

Ministry of Internal Affairs

Husu Hajiyev Street 7, 370005 Baku, Azerbaijan

Fax: 00 994 12 92 45 90

It may be more effective to send your appeals via the Azerbaijan representative in the UK:

His Excellency Mr. Rafael Ibrahimov

Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan

4 Kensington Court

London W8 5DL

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/azerbaijanextendedpretrialdete/

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