Azerbaijan: imprisoned writer Rashad Ramazanov in poor health

PEN is deeply concerned for the health of writer and blogger Rashad Ramazanov, who is serving a nine-year sentence for his anti-government writings. His family, who recently visited him in prison, said that he lost weight after being punished with 15 days in solitary confinement and that he is not receiving the medical treatment he requires. Rashad Ramazanov suffers from a number of health problems as a result of his imprisonment, including tuberculosis which he contracted when arbitrarily detained in 2005. PEN believes that the charges against Rashad Ramazanov are politically motivated and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Take action

Spread the word

Share details of Rashad Ramazanov’s detention with friends and on social media. #RashadRamazanov

Send messages of support

Please send messages of support to Rashad Ramazanov in prison:

Mr. Rashad Ramazanov
Prison #2
Address 2 sayli Cezachekme Muessisesi
AZ 1045, Baku, Khazar rayonu, Bina qesebesi
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN

Write to the authorities

Please send appeals to the Azeri authorities via your embassy:

  • Protesting Rashad Ramazanov’s detention on politically motivated charges, and calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally and to overturn his conviction and sentence;
  • Expressing serious concern for his health and well-being and ensuring that, pending his release, he is provided with adequate medical care;
  • Calling on Azerbaijan to cease its campaign of intimidation directed at opposition or critical voices and to comply with its obligations under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which Azerbaijan is a state party) to protect the right to freedom of expression.

Please send your letters via the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in your country.  Addresses may be found here.

Background

Writer and blogger Rashad Ramazanov (pen-name Rashad Hagigat Agaaddin) was arrested on 9 May 2013 and sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of ‘illegal possession and sale of drugs’ (Article 234.4.3 of the Criminal Code). Rashad Ramazanov is well-known for his anti-government postings, and PEN International considers the charges against him to be politically motivated. There is a clear pattern of the Azerbaijani authorities using charges of drugs or firearms possession, ‘hooliganism’ or tax evasion to arrest and imprison writers and journalists who criticise the authorities.

Rashad Ramazanov was arrested near the ‘20 January’ metro station by officers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and taken to the Department for Combating Organised Crime. The police claim to have found nine grams of heroin on his person, although he says it was planted by officers during his arrest, when he was also beaten up. Rashad Ramazanov also reports being tortured during interrogation. On 7 August 2013, his case was referred to the Baku Court of Grave Crimes and he was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison on 13 November 2013. On 14 May 2014, Ramazanov’s appeal against his conviction was dismissed.

Rashad Ramazanov was punished with 15 days in solitary confinement that began on Monday 23 January 2017. His family and lawyer tried to see him but were denied permission.  The reason for this punishment remains unknown. On 7 February 2017, Rashad Ramazanov’s family was informed that he had been released for solidarity confinement and was subsequently allowed to visit him.

Rashad Ramazanov, aged thirty-five, graduated in 2004 from Baku State University with a Masters degree in ecology before going on to study for a PhD in Philosophy, Sociology and Law from the Institute of National Sciences Academy of  Azerbaijan. He is the author of seven books and many articles. His academic articles have been published by the National Sciences Academy of Azerbaijan and other institutes. He has also been an active and outspoken political commentator on social media, and has published articles critical of the government on his Facebook page under the pen-name of Rashad Haqiqat Agaddin (http://on.fb.me/12G0WJE). He reports receiving many warnings and threats from the authorities for his critical online writings, and has also received death threats from radical Islamist extremists in Baku for his liberal views. As a result of these threats he fled to Turkey in 2009 with his wife and one-year–old daughter. They returned to Azerbaijan a year later, but the threats resumed and he lived apart from his family until 2012 in order to protect them. His wife was heavily pregnant with their second child at the time of his 2013 arrest, and his son was born on 30 May 2013, 21 days after his arrest. His wife reports living under heavy surveillance, and the stress is having an impact on her health.

Rashad Ramazanov is an honorary member of PEN Canada.

PEN’s work on Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan is undergoing an unprecedented crackdown on civil society. The challenges faced by opposition voices or critical journalists are severe and frequent, and include death threats, surveillance, judicial harassment and violence. Despite the much-lauded release of political prisoners in March 2016, the persecution of critical voices in Azerbaijan has accelerated in recent months. Currently, dozens of journalists and activists are behind bars for exercising their right to free expression in Azerbaijan. These issues, including the case of Rashad Ramazanov, were highlighted in PEN’s 2016 World Press Freedom Day campaign.

In August 2016 PEN International joined the Sports For Rights Coalition in a campaign calling for greater respect of human rights and freedom of expression in Azerbaijan and the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners, including writers and journalists.

Palestine: Abbad Yahya under investigation for ‘threatening morality’ and has books banned

The Palestinian Attorney General’s move to prosecute writer Abbad Yahya, banning his novel and accusing him of threatening morality and public decency in his novel Crime in Ramallah, is a gross violation of his right to freedom of expression.

Twenty-nine-year-old Abbad Yahya is currently stranded in Doha, Qatar, after the Attorney General’s office ordered the confiscation of all copies of his novel, Crime in Ramallah, on 6 February 2017 as a result of its investigation.  The Attorney General’s office also issued a summons to Yahya, the book’s publisher and its distributor. Fuad al-Akleek, the book’s distributor, was reportedly arrested and held for six hours shortly afterwards.

Yahya’s fourth novel, Crime in Ramallah, tells the story of three Palestinian men who work in a bar, where the murder of a young woman takes place. The book goes on to chart how the murder affects each man’s life. The novel explores the themes of politics, religion and homosexuality through its protagonists. Crime in Ramallah is reportedly not only seen as critical of the Palestinian authorities through its symbolism, but also contains sexual language and references.

Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, said:

It is appalling that Abbad Yahya cannot return home because he fears he may be arrested over a novel he has written. The response to his novel is not only disproportionate; it is entirely out of place. Abbad Yahya’s novel may have challenged political and religious orthodoxy, but he has the right to express his thoughts. The Palestinian Authority should take immediate steps to overturn the ban and ensure that he will be able to return home safely and protected from any threats.

Since the launch of the Attorney General’s investigation, Yahya has been the victim of a hate campaign on social media. He has received death threats and copies of his novel were reportedly burnt in the Gaza strip.

The department of culture and information of the Palestine Liberation Organisation condemned the Attorney General’s office decision, stating:

To use the term public decency is a form of manipulation and unacceptable justification because it has no legal or logical definition. It opens the doors for an endless censorship, which violates freedom of expression and right to creative writing.

Meanwhile, on 10 February, the Hamas Ministry of Culture issued a press release condemning the novel, calling for Yahya to be held accountable.

English PEN joins PEN International in calling on the Attorney General to close its investigation into Abbad Yahya, and reverse the ban of Crime in Ramallah. Furthermore, PEN also calls on the Palestinian authorities to allow Yahya to return home safely without threat of prosecution and to protect him from harm.

Iran: serious concerns for the health of imprisoned filmmaker Keywan Karimi

PEN is seriously concerned for the health of imprisoned filmmaker Keywan Karimi. The prominent Kurdish filmmaker, who has been in prison since 23 November 2016, is in need of urgent medical care after multiple episodes of pulmonary bleeding.  Doctors at Tehran’s Evin prison have said that he has bronchitis and an acute lung infection and have advised a transfer to a specialised facility.  However, the prison authorities have reportedly refused to authorise this transfer.

Karimi was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and 223 lashes on 13 October 2015 by Branch 28 of Tehran Revolutionary Court for ‘insulting the holy sanctities’, ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ‘illegitimate relations’. An Appeals Court upheld his sentence in February 2016, ruling to suspend five of his six-year punishment for a period of five years. He is now serving a one-year prison term and he is expected to receive 223 lashes while in prison.

PEN reiterates its call on the Iranian authorities to quash Karimi’s conviction and in the meantime urges them to grant him all necessary medical care as a matter of urgency. We are also gravely concerned at the flogging sentence, which violates the absolute prohibition in international law against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.

TAKE ACTION

Spread the word

Share details of Keywan Karimi’s case on Facebook, Twitter and other social media #FreeKeywanKarimi

Send letters of appeal

Please send appeals:

  • Expressing serious concern for Keywan Karimi’s health and urging that he is given access to specialised medical care as a matter of urgency;
  • Expressing concern at the conviction and harsh sentence imposed on filmmaker Keywan Karimi and calling on the Iranian authorities to quash his conviction as it is connected to his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression;
  • Expressing concern at his flogging sentence, which violates the absolute prohibition in international law against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • Calling also for the immediate and unconditional release of all other writers and journalists currently detained in Iran in connection with their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.

Write to:

Leader of the Islamic Republic
Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Islamic Republic Street — End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street,
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: http://www.leader.ir/langs/en/index.php?p=letter
Twitter: @khamenei_ir English-language account), @Khamenei_ar (Arabic-language), @Khamenei_es (Spanish-language account).

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani
c/o Public Relations Office
Number 4, Deadend of 1 Azizi Vali Asr Street
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Hassan Rouhani
Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: media@rouhani.ir
Twitter: @HassanRouhani (English) and
@Rouhani_ir (Persian)

And copy to the Embassy of Iran in your country. You can find embassy addresses here.

Please also contact your own Foreign Ministry, asking them to raise the case with their Iranian counterparts. Centres in European Union Countries are also asked to urge their Foreign Ministries to ensure that his case is raised by the European Union.

Background

Keywan Karimi, a member of Iran’s Kurdish minority, is a prominent documentary and fiction filmmaker. His documentary Marz-e Shekasteh (The Broken Border) was awarded as best short documentary in Beirut International Film Festival in 2013. This documentary portrayed the poor conditions of the Kurdish population near the Iranian border. His film Zendegi-ye Zan va Shohar (The Adventure of a Married Couple) was presented at San Sebastian, Freiburg and Zurich Film Festivals. The film, adapted from a story by Italian writer Italo Calvino, tackles the challenges of a working-class couple.

Karimi was arrested on 14 December 2013 and released on bail after 12 days in solitary confinement during which he was accused of insulting authorities after a music clip and documentary were found on his hard drive, even though they had never been screened or shared online. The music clip, which had never been finalised or shown, was made for exiled Iranian singer Shahin Najafi and Karimi believes this video, which the authorities had learned about from other sources, led to his arrest. Later, he was accused of ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ in connection with his 2012 film Neveshtan Rooy-e Shahr (Writing on the City) which has never been shown in public, apart from a trailer on YouTube. Karimi describes the film as containing ‘graffiti and wall painting that date back to 100 years ago in Tehran. It is story of a wall and how it reflects what happened in society’.

On 13 October 2015, after six trial sessions, he was sentenced by the Branch 28 of Tehran Revolutionary Court for ‘insulting the holy sanctities’, ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ‘illegitimate relations’. Human rights organisations fear that he has been prosecuted because some of the graffiti shown were connected to the unrest in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election. The charge of ‘illegitimate relations’ was brought because he shook hands with a woman to whom he was not related.

Karimi’s lawyer, Amir Raeisian, highlighted irregularities in the trial, pointing out that at the final session, the judge was reading from a verdict, even though the verdict should have been issued after the trial. This was corroborated by the date on the verdict when he received it, 22 June 2015, which pre-dated the final trial session on 22 September 2015. Raeisian has also pointed out that according to article 134 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, an individual who faces multiple charges should not be sentenced to the heaviest penalty in more than one of the charges, whereas Karimi has been given the maximum sentence for both charges.

In December 2015, more than 135 Iranian filmmakers released a letter calling on the judiciary to acquit Karimi. On 20 February 2016, Karimi was informed of the verdict of his appeal, held on 23 December 2015. The appeals court ruled to suspend five of the six years he had been sentenced to spend in prison, for a period of five years. Karimi began serving his sentence on 23 November 2016 and is expected to receive the lashes while in prison.

According to reports, Karimi has been transferred to the clinic in Tehran’s Elvin prison several times since January due to pulmonary bleeding. He has been diagnosed with bronchitis and an acute lung infection and his condition is currently only being treated with sedatives. Clinic doctors have advised that he is urgently transferred to a specialised facility outside of prison. However, prison authorities have so far refused to authorise this transfer. Karimi also suffers from a pre-existing bone condition called an aneurysmal bone cyst, which is characterised by blood-filled fibrous cysts that expand the bone and can cause pain, swelling and fractures. Some 10 years ago, he received surgery to remove a cyst in his shin bone, which requires ongoing monitoring.

While awaiting the summons to begin serving his sentence, Karimi continued his filmmaking work. Drum, his first fiction film, was produced in the spring of 2016 and premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The events of the film occur in Tehran city and the aesthetic of the film reportedly reflects the pressures under which it was made.

China: send a birthday card to imprisoned poet Zhu Yufu

On 13 February political dissident and poet Zhu Yufu, a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC), will spend yet another birthday, his 64th, in prison in China.

Arrested in March 2011 and charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power’ through his critical writings, Zhu Yufu was sentenced a year later to seven years in prison. The charges relate to his poem ‘It’s Time’ and several messages he had sent via the internet.

Concerns for Zhu Yufu’s health and well-being have mounted over the course of his detention: numerous reports suggest that he has been denied access to adequate health care and medication, and that his family’s requests for medical parole have been refused. He is also reported to have been denied access to books and letters from his family.

In 2016, fearing for her brother’s life, Zhu Yufu’s sister Zhu Xiaoyan spoke out about his current situation:

Every time I went to see my brother, he was always very strong, telling us not to worry about him. He was going to serve his time in this Communist Party jail.

The thing that moved Zhu Yufu the most [during his time in jail] was hearing that there were people overseas who cared about his case, and who wanted to help democracy activists in China.

Every time I would pass on news to him about people overseas trying to help pro-democracy activists in China, he would get very animated . . . [sometimes] he would be moved to tears.

His wife told me that he would think all that time in jail was worth it, just to know that there were people outside China trying to help him.

But the last time I went to see him, he seemed to be in a trance, as if his spirit had been broken. I felt so bad about that, that I decided I would definitely start speaking out on his behalf. Otherwise he might die in that Communist Party jail.

Read Zhu Xiaoyan’s statement full statement on RFA

Zhu Xiaoyan’s words show just how crucial international support can be, how a seemingly simple act can mean the world. This is why we are once again urging supporters to send him a card ahead of his birthday on 13 February and will be continuing to stand in solidarity with Zhu Yufu until he is finally released and reunited with his family. We will also be highlighting his case at the English PEN Modern Literature Festival where poet Lavinia Singer will perform a new piece in his honour at London’s Rich Mix.

Take action

Spread the word

Join the call for Zhu Yufu’s immediate release on social media #FreeZhuYufu

Send a card to Zhu Yufu

A simple message of support can mean the world to writers in prison like Zhu Yufu. Please take a moment to send him a birthday card. If possible, please send a photo of your card to cat@englishpen.or or share it on social media with the hashtags #FreeZhuYufu and #PENgreetings

Zhu Yufu
Zhejiang Provincial No.4 Prison
P.O. Box 50, Hangzhou City 311100
Zhejiang Province
P.R. China
浙江省杭州市50信箱,邮编311100

Send letters of appeal

  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of dissident poet Zhu Yufu, imprisoned by the P.R.China for the peaceful exercise of his right to free expression;
  • Expressing alarm at the crackdown on dissent in which writers, journalists and human rights defenders are amongst those to have been targeted;
  • Reminding the Chinese authorities of their obligations under Article 35 of the Chinese constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which it is a state party.

His Excellency Xi Jinping
President of the People’s Republic of China
State Council
Beijing 100032
P.R. China

Please also send letters of appeal to the Chinese Embassy in London:

His Excellency Mr Liu Xiaoming
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
49-51 Portland Place,
London
W1B 1JL
Fax: 020 7636 2981
Email: secretary@chinese-embassy.org.uk

Kenya: British journalist Jerome Starkey remains unable to return

Two months ago, Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent for The Times, was expelled from Kenya. Detained without explanation at Nairobi airport on 8 December having just returned from a visit to the United Kingdom, Starkey was deported 24 hours later. The reasons for his expulsion remain unclear and Starkey has not yet been able to return to Kenya.

English PEN has joined fellow NGOs in calling on the Kenyan authorities to lift the ban on Jerome Starkey and allow him to resume his work as a journalist. The organisations, including Amnesty International and RSF, have also raised concerns regarding several other journalists and activists who have been subject to harassment. The full text of the letter follows.

8 February 2017

To: The Honorable Joseph Nkaissery,

Minister of Interior and Coordination of National Government of the Republic of Kenya

CC: Attorney General of the Republic of Kenya; Director of Prosecutions of the Republic of Kenya; Inspector General of Police, Chairman, Commission on Administration of Justice; Chairman, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights

Dear Honorable Cabinet Secretary,

Deportation of The Times correspondent amid media crackdown

We, the undersigned organizations, are writing to express our concern about the detention and deportation of a British journalist and the wider growing repression of the media in Kenya in the run-up to the presidential, parliamentary and local council elections in August this year.

We are calling on the Kenyan authorities to allow Jerome Starkey to return to Kenya to resume his work; publicly reaffirm oft-expressed commitments to the right to freedom of expression and media freedom and to initiate thorough, impartial and transparent investigations into attacks and killings of journalists mentioned below.

On the evening of 8 December 2016, Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent for The Times newspaper, was detained on arrival from the United Kingdom at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi and deported back 24 hours later.

Immigration officials told Jerome that, at the time of his detention, he had been held for security reasons because of a ‘security block’. Jerome’s lawyer, George King, was prevented from meeting his client at the airport, denying him the right to legal representation.

After several requests for an explanation from The Times, a spokesman for the Kenyan High Commission, informed the newspaper in a letter dated 10 January that Jerome was expelled because his work permit had been rejected. However, he had previously been assured by the Immigration Department that no decision had been made on his work permit and when applications are rejected the Immigration Department issues a written notice to that effect. He had not received a letter.

These inconsistencies shed a worrying light on the reasons behind Mr. Starkey’s expulsion and more generally on the ability of journalists to work freely in Kenya.

We are also concerned by several cases of Kenyan journalists and human rights defenders who have faced harassment and interference in their work, most notably:

  • John Kituyi, the Editor of the Mirror Weekly, an Eldoret-based newspaper, was murdered in 2015, after publishing an article on developments relating to the International Criminal Court (ICC) case against Deputy President, William Ruto. He was also working on an article about a missing witness due to speak out against William Ruto. To date, suspected perpetrators have not been brought to justice.
  • On 27 September 2016, the police harassed and attacked Duncan Wanga, a K24 television journalist, and destroyed his camera, while he was covering a demonstration in Eldoret in the Rift Valley. He was arrested and released without any charges.
  • On 1 October 2016, the Deputy President, William Ruto, sued activist Boniface Mwangi for defamation after he posted a tweet linking the Deputy President to the murder in May 2016 of businessman Jacob Juma. The Deputy President’s lawyers demanded that Mwangi offer an apology, retraction and clarification within seven days. Boniface, through his organization PAWA254, has been using art to highlight human rights violations in the country. He organized and led demonstrations against exorbitant salaries for Members of Parliament and documented human rights violations during post-election violence in 2007.

Last October the office of a lawyer representing Boniface was broken into and a laptop and camera were stolen. Boniface also received a death threat through a letter given to his wife by a man claiming to be working in the office of a person connected to the Deputy President.  Though the man has been arrested, during interrogation by the police, he outlined how the activist was to be killed through a planned road accident. .

Bloggers perceived as critical of the government have also been arrested.

Yassin Juma was arrested on 23 January 2016 for posting information about an attack on the Kenyan Defence Forces on his social media account. Police ransacked his home, looked through his computer and took away flash discs. He was arrested for allegedly misusing a licensed telecommunication gadget under section 29 of the Information and Communication Act. He was later released without charge. ARTICLE 19 filed a case before the High Court in Nairobi that the provisions of the act were vague, uncertain and an unjustifiable limit to the freedom of expression, as well as violating basic criminal law principles. In April 2016, the High Court declared section 29 unconstitutional.

Allegations of government pressure on the Daily Nation to censor stories have also raised concerns about freedom of the press in Kenya. For over two decades Godfrey Mwampembwa, aka Gado, has graced the Daily Nation cartoon pages. His often critical cartoons about public officials, including presidents, were held up as examples of the Kenyan government’s commitment to allow the right to freedom of expression.

According to Gado, since Jubilee came into power, The Daily Nation has come under severe pressure to drop him. Initially, he was asked to go on a sabbatical, after a stinging editorial cartoon about former Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete. He was slated to return in 2016, but on 28 February, 2016, he received a letter from The Daily Nation saying that his contract would not be renewed after all. According to reports, Editor-in-Chief Tom Mshindi denied that his sacking had anything to do with political pressure.

Denis Galava, Managing Editor of the Daily Nation’s Weekend Edition, was dismissed over the newspaper’s 2016 New Year’s editorial critical of the Kenyatta administration. The Nation issued a statement saying he had not followed the correct procedure in writing the editorial. Galava has since sued the Daily Nation for wrongful dismissal.

These incidents have taken place amidst a wider crackdown on dissent, including existing and draft legislation such as the new Security Laws (Amendment) Act and the draft Cyber, Security and Protection Bill, both of which are inconsistent with Kenya’s obligations under international and regional human rights treaties as well as Kenya’s own constitutional Bill of Rights—and present a significant threat to the right to freedom of expression.

We, the undersigned organizations, therefore urge the Government of Kenya to publicly reaffirm its oft-repeated commitments to the right to freedom of expression and media freedom, in line with Kenya’s Constitution and Kenya’s international and regional obligations, including in the run-up to the August 2017 general elections and beyond.

We also urge the Government of Kenya to:

  1. Allow Jerome Starkey to return to Kenya to resume his work;
  2. Initiate thorough, impartial and transparent investigations into the murder of John Kituyi and bring to justice anyone suspected of being responsible;
  3. Initiate thorough, impartial and transparent investigations into the attack on Duncan Wanga and bring to justice anyone suspected of being responsible and ensure Wanga’s access to an effective remedy;
  4. Guarantee Boniface Mwangi’s right to security and investigate and prosecute anyone suspected of being responsible for the threats to his life.

Sincerely,

Amnesty International Kenya
ARTICLE 19
Committee to Protect Journalists
English PEN
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
MUHURI
PEN International
Reporters Sans Frontières