The Zakhidov Brothers

***UPDATE: English PEN were extremely pleased to learn that Azerbaijani editor Genimet Zakhidov (also spelt Ganimat Zakhidov) was granted an early release on 18 March 2010. Zakhidov, who had served more than half of a four-year term on fabricated “hooliganism” charges, was released under a pardon President Ilham Aliyev signed in connection with the Azerbaijani New Year, known as Novruz. For more information, please click here.

We nevertheless continue to call for the release of our Honorary Member Eynulla Fatullayev and internet writers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, all of whom remain imprisoned for their journalism.***

***UPDATE: English PEN were delighted to learn that Sakit Mirza Zakhidov, a prominent satirist and commentator for the pro-opposition daily Azadlyg in Baku, was released on 9 April 2009 under the Pardon Act passed by parliament in March. Zakhidov had served all but two and a half months of his three-year prison term on charges of drug possession which are widely considered to be fabricated. ***

Sakit Mirza Zakhidov


Poet, journalist and satirist for the newspaper Azadlyg Sakit Mirza Zakhidov was sentenced on 4 October 2006 to three years in prison on drugs charges that are widely considered to be trumped up.

Zakhidov was arrested on 24 June 2006. The police claim Zakhidov was found in possession of 10 grams of heroin but Zakhidov’s brother, Ganimat Zakhidov, the editor of Azadlyg argues that it was planted on him. On 24 August 2006, two months after Zahidov’s address, prosecution materials were finally provided to the lawyers who reportedly claim that there is no evidence of drug dealing and that evidence had been forged. His trial opened on 29 August 2006. On 26 September 2006, the Public Prosecutor told the court that there was no evidence that Zakhidov was selling drugs and asked that the charges be changed from drug dealing to drug use (Article 234.1). He was convicted to the maximum sentence of three years under this charge on 4 October 2006. The sentence was upheld in early May 2007.

It is believed that Zakhidov may be being held for his dissident writings. Before his arrest, Sakit Zakhidov wrote columns in which he regularly criticised the government. He is also known for his satirical poems that are said to be laced with obscenities, following a traditional format from the region of Azerbaijan where he was born. One of his poems, “What if we didn’t have him?” focussed on the personality cult that surrounded the late Azeri president Heidar Aliyev and contained comment that some analysts see as slanderous.

On 19 August 2008, Zakhidov reported that he had been attacked by another prisoner, who had been provided with a pair of scissors and had been ordered to kill him. Zakhidov reported this situation to the penitentiary authorities and requested to be transferred to another prison.

Zakhidov was transferred to the Justice Ministry Penitentiary Services’ Treatment Facility to receive treatment for his long standing heart disease, but was returned to Prison #14 on 18 October 2008 without having finished his treatment. Zakhidov’s wife reported that on his return, Zakhidov was beaten in the kidneys and stomach by the management chief and his colleagues.

On 20 December 2008, Zakhidov’s request for early release was rejected in a hearing in the prison.

In 2008 Sakit Zakhidov received the Helmann/Hammett award in recognition of his journalism in the face of persecution.

Ganimat Zakhidov

Editor-in-chief of newspaper Azadlyg Ganimat Zakhidov was sentenced to two months pre trial detention on 11 November 2007. On 7 March 2008 he was sentenced to four years imprisonment at Yasamal District Court in Baku for ‘hooliganism and intentional inflicting of bodily harm’ under articles 127.3 and 221 of the Azeri Criminal Code. According to the Baku based Institute for Reporter Freedom and Safety, no evidence to prove Zakhidov’s guilt was presented during the trial which began on 8 January 2008. On 13 May 2008 the Yasamal District Court upheld the four year prison sentence, as ruled by the Court in Baku. Afterwards, on 21 May 2008, Zakhidov’s defence filed a cassation complaint against the earlier judicial decision.

Background: A man and a woman filed a complaint against the editor claiming that he had tried to attack the woman. Zakhidov told Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) that on 7 November 2008 he was going up the steps to his office when the woman began to shout and accuse him of insulting her. He said that the man grabbed him and told him to stop bothering the girl. Zakhidov told RSF about the incident on the day it occurred. He said he regarded it as deliberate provocation in retaliation for his writings, which are critical of President Aliyev and his associates. The Azeri press council and numerous members of parliament issued protests at his arrest.

In 2008, Zakhidov received the Human Rights Watch administered Hellmann/Hammett award in recognition of his journalism in the face of persecution.

Take action

Two representatives of the Writers in Prison Committee will be travelling to Azerbaijan in April on behalf of English PEN. The trip seeks to promote English PEN’s key goals of promoting literature and human rights worldwide. We also hope that our representatives will have the opportunity to meet with imprisoned writers and their families.

Rather than writing to the authorities, we are therefore asking members to write messages of support to the Zakhidov brothers and English PEN Honorary Member Eynulla Fatullayev.

Please email your messages to or post them to the English PEN office to arrive by 4pm, 16 April 2009.

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