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Azerbaijan: imprisoned writer pardoned after almost six years in prison

Azerbaijan: imprisoned writer pardoned after almost six years in prison

19 March 2019 – PEN International welcomes the release of Rashad Ramazanov, an Azerbaijani blogger and writer who was arrested on 9 May 2013 and sentenced to nine years in prison on fabricated charges of illegal possession and sale of drugs. Rashad Ramazanov was among hundreds pardoned by President Ilham Aliyev on 16 March 2019 to mark the Novruz Holiday.

‘As the PEN community celebrates the pardon and release of Rashad Ramazanov, we must remember that he should never have been detained in the first place. While this is a positive step, the Azerbaijani authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all those held solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression’, said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.

In total, 431 prisoners were pardoned or had their sentences commuted on 16 March 2019, including bloggers and journalists. The PEN community has been actively campaigning for Rashad Ramazanov’s release, most recently during his hunger strike, sending appeals to the Azerbaijani authorities, collating messages of support and raising awareness of his plight, among other things.

In April 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged the Azerbaijani authorities to release Rashad Ramazanov immediately, a call reiterated by the European Parliament in January 2019.

Background information

Rashad Ramazanov (pen-name Rashad Hagigat Agaaddin) was arrested on 9 May 2013 near the ‘20 January’ metro station in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, by officers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and taken to the Department for Combating Organised Crime. Police officers claimed to have discovered 9.05 grams of heroin in his trouser pocket. He denied the charges and insisted that the drugs had been planted on him during his arrest. He said that police officers beat him in the car on the day of his arrest and then during the interrogations on the first three days of his detention. The Azerbaijani authorities are not known to have carried out any investigations into his allegations of torture and other ill-treatment.

On 7 August 2013, Rashad Ramazanov’s 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. His sentence was upheld by the Baku Court of Appeal on 16 January 2014 and by Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court on 14 May 2014. He suffers from a number of health problems as a result of his imprisonment, most serious being tuberculosis, which he contracted when he was arbitrarily detained without charge for several months in 2005.

Rashad Ramazanov 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.

Rashad Ramazanov is an honorary member of PEN Canada.

PEN Centres wishing to send him a message should contact Aurélia Dondo, Europe Programme Coordinator: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org

For more information about freedom of expression in Azerbaijan please click here.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax  +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org

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