The Writers in Prison Committee of English PEN is alarmed by reports that religious extremists have called for the execution of writer Rafiq Tagi and editor Samir Sadagatoglu, who are imprisoned in Azerbaijan for an article comparing European and Islamic traditions.
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. 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. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, citing an interview in a local web site, 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, the fatwa is not supported by all the people and there have been counter protests by Muslim groups in Azerbaijan stating that Sadagatoglu and Tagi have the right to express their views.
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 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.
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.
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;
Nevertheless pointing out that their detention and possible trial for an article, while containing comments that some may find uncomfortable, 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 attacks.
Appeals to be sent to:
President Ilham Aliyev
Office of the President of the Azerbaijan Republic
19 Istiqlaliyyat Street
Baku AZ1066 Azerbaijan
Fax: 00 994 12 492 0625
Lt.-Gen. Ramil Usubov
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Husu Hajiyev Street 7, 370005 Baku, Azerbaijan
Fax: 00 994 12 92 45 90
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/azerbaijaniranianclericscallfo/