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Protest serious threats to Azerbaijani writer Akram Aylisli

UPDATE: 230 people from over 32 countries signed the petition calling on Azerbaijani authorities to protect novelist Akram Aylisli.

Writer Akram Aylisli in his library in Baku following threats in February 2013.
Writer Akram Aylisli in his library in Baku following threats in February 2013.

AP/Aziz Karimov

The life of novelist Akram Aylisli is in danger after angry protestors gathered outside his home, burning copies of his book, and an opposition figure issued threats against him earlier in February. The source of the outcry is Aylisli's novel, Stone Dreams, set in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, and which provides a sympathetic view of Armenians in the conflict.

The crisis began to build as Azerbaijani lawmakers accused Aylisli of insult to Azerbaijani people, and questioned Aylisli's own ethnicity, suggesting that he be forced to leave Azerbaijan to live in Armenia. He was then deprived of his special status as a state writer on 7 February 2012, when President Ilham Aliyev stripped Aylisli of his pension, which had been awarded to him recognition of his past contribution to literature in Azerbaijan, including winning Azerbaijan's most prestigious literary prize, the Independence Award, in 2002.

On 11 February, the chairman of the opposition Modern Musavat Party, Hafiz Hajiyev, announced that he would pay a ransom of 10,000 manats (approx. €9,500) to anyone who cut off Akram Aylisli's ear, adding that he is quite aware of the criminal liability. The Minister of Interior subsequently announced that such calls for violence were unacceptable and will be investigated. However, PEN International says the threat to Aylisli remains acute.

Aylisli, aged 75, is a highly regarded writer, poet and script writer having won numerous awards in the Soviet and Post Soviet eras. Please sign the petition originated by PEN International calling on the Azerbaijani authorities to guarantee Aylisli's safety and that of his family, and to investigate and prosecute any person who has threatened him.

The full text of the letter follows:

President Ilham Aliyev
Office of the President of the Azerbaijan Republic
18 Istiqlaliyyat Street,
Baku AZ1066, AZERBAIJAN
Fax: +994 12 492 0625
Email: office@pa.gov.az

18 March 2013

Dear President Aliyev,

We the undersigned 230 signatories from at least 32 countries around the world are writing to protest the threats and harassment of highly regarded novelist, Akram Aylisli, who is in danger after angry protestors gathered outside his home, burning copies of his book Stone Dreams, and an opposition figure issued threats against him earlier in February.

Azerbaijani lawmakers accused Aylisli of insult to Azerbaijani people, and questioned Aylisli's own ethnicity, suggesting that he be forced to leave Azerbaijan to live in Armenia. Aylisli was deprived of his special status as a state writer on 7 February 2012, when you stripped him of his pension, which had been awarded to him recognition of his past contribution to literature in Azerbaijan, including winning Azerbaijan's most prestigious literary prize, the Independence Award, in 2002.

Aylisli was penalised for “distorting facts in Azerbaijani history and insulting the feelings of Azerbaijani people”.

On 11 February, the chairman of the opposition Modern Musavat Party, Hafiz Hajiyev, announced that he would pay a ransom of 10,000 AZN (approx. €9,500) to anyone who cut off Akram Aylisli's ear, adding that he is quite aware of the criminal liability. The Minister of Interior subsequently announced that such calls for violence were unacceptable and will be investigated. However, we fear the threat to Aylisli remains acute.

We respectfully call on you to:

• Provide Akram Aylisli and has family with protection against attack;
• Ensure that the Minister of Interior investigates any person threatening Aylisli and prosecutes those found to be responsible;
• End the harassment and penalties imposed against Aylisli linked to his writings.

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