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Journalist beaten in prison, prevented from completing medical treatment

(IRFS/IFEX) - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) condemns the premature transfer of imprisoned "Azadlig" newspaper journalist/satirist Sakit Zahidov from medical treatment back to Prison #14 and the beating of Zahidov upon his return to prison.

During a 20 October 2008 press conference, Zahidov's wife, Rena Zahidova, said that her husband was transferred to prison on 18 October, prior to completing his full course of medical treatment. Upon his arrival, the prison management chief, Alizaman Guliyev informed Zahidov that his head would have to be shaved. Zahidov told the chief that he had just had his head shaved a day before at the medical treatment facility and it was not necessary to do this again. However, Guliyev did not agree. He proceeded, with his colleagues, to shave Zahidov's head and also beat Zahidov, landing blows to the journalist's kidneys and stomach.

IRFS believes this is evidence of the repression against Zahidov because of the satirical poems he continues to write. Most recently, the poem "Ilhamla Ireli" ("Forward with Ilham") was published in "Azadlig" Newspaper on 15 October (Day of Azerbaijan's Presidential Elections). On the eve of the journalist's 49th birthday, which he celebrates on 19 October, Zahidov was prevented from completing his medical treatment and beaten upon his return to prison.

IRFS notes that although Zahidov was convicted of possession of a narcotic, independent investigations have proven that these charges are spurious, and it is widely believed both locally and internationally that Zahidov was imprisoned to silence him and prevent him from publishing his infamous satirical poems.

Zahidov will soon be transferred to a different prison from Prison #14, Azerbaijan National Committee against Torture Chairman Elchin Behbudov told the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety on 21 October. Behbudov has been negotiating for Zahidov's transfer to a different facility. "I met with the leadership of the Justice Ministry Penitentiary Services and discussed Sakit's situation," said Behbudov. "They told me that Sakit Zahidov will be transferred to either Prison #10 or #16 within a week."

IRFS calls on law enforcement agencies to investigate the beating of Zahidov, to punish those responsible and to ensure Zahidov's safety. IRFS calls on the international community to encourage the government of Azerbaijan to investigate this incident, to punish those responsible and to release Zahidov and Azerbaijan's other wrongfully imprisoned journalists (Eynulla Fatullayev, Ganimat Zahid and Mushfig Huseynov).

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