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Azerbaijan23 October 2007

Journalist goes on hunger strike after transfer back to filthy prison

Detained poet and journalist Sakit Zahidov has gone on hunger strike again in protest against his transfer on 20 October back to N14 prison, which is notorious for its poor hygiene. Zahidov, who has heart and stomach problems, had been receiving treatment at a justice ministry medical centre. He previously went on hunger strike in July.

Zahidov’s family had requested his transfer to a prison in Baku. N14 is 75 km from Baku, which will make it difficult for his family and friends to visit him.

A journalist with the newspaper Azadlig, Zahidov was arrested in June 2006 and charged with “possession of a large quantity of drugs for the purpose of resale” because police allegedly found 10 grammes of heroin in one of his pockets. He has always insisted the police planted the heroin. He was given a three-year jail sentence in October 2006.

21 june 2006

Prosecution fails to produce any evidence that Zahidov consumed drugs The prosecution was unable to produce evidence that journalist Sakit Zahidov took drugs when the doctors who had supposedly tested him after his arrest appeared in court during the third hearing in his trial on 19 September. Zahidov, who writes for the opposition daily Azadlig, has been held since 23 June on a charge of “buying a large amount of drugs with the aim of reselling it.”

The doctors who were called to testify denied ever carrying out any drug test on Zahidov. The result of a urine test carried out on 5 July made it clear that no trace of drugs was found. And no other evidence was produced to support the claim that tests had shown he had consumed drugs.

Zahidov’s lawyer said the blood sample taken from Zahidov, which according to the authorities showed traces of illicit substances, was in fact used to carry out an HIV test.

Zahidov has always insisted that the 10 grammes of heroin allegedly found in his possession were in fact planted by the police, and that his arrest was prompted by his activities as a poet and journalist. The next hearing is set for 26 September.

13 September 2006

Defence cross-examines police as Zahidov trial resumes

The trial of opposition journalist and poet Sakit Zahidov on charges of possessing and trafficking in drugs resumed yesterday with the defendant continuing to insist that the police planted the 10 grammes of heroin allegedly found in his pocket.

The police who carried out the arrest testified at yesterday’s hearings, but many questions were left unanswered when they were cross-examined by Zahidov’s lawyer, Vugar Hasayev, especially as regards the tests that supposedly proved Zahidov had taken drugs.

The police initially claimed that drug traces were found in his blood. Then they changed their story and said urine tests, not blood tests, were carried out. Hasayev got the judges to agree that the persons who conducted the tests should appear in court.

Zahidov has always denied the charges and maintains that his arrest was prompted by his activities as a poet and journalist. The next hearing is set for 19 September.

29 August 2006

As trial starts, Zahidov accuses policeman of planting drugs on him

Satirical journalist Sakit Zahidov read several poems out loud and then told presiding judge Azer Orujev that the charges against him were “lies and a provocation” at the start of his trial today in Baku. Zahidov is accused under article 234.4.3 of the criminal code of “buying a large amount of drugs with the aim of selling them again.”

He claimed that a police officer, Adyl Alekerov, slipped the drugs into his pocket at the time of his arrest, which was carried out on orders “from on high,” he said. “Representative

s of the authorities said in public that I had to be sidelined,” he said, adding that he was also physically mistreated by the police when he was arrested.

Representatives of the US and British embassies and NGOs attended the opening hearing. The next hearing is scheduled for 5 September.

9 august 2006

Imprisoned journalist calls off hunger strike

Sakit Zahidov has called off the hunger strike he began on 25 July in Bayil prison in protest against his arrest on a charge of drug trafficking. He has lost six kilos in weight and his state of health has deteriorated sharply. He resumed eating on 5 August.

The support committee formed to campaign for his release yesterday called for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to be allowed to examine blood and urine samples taken from him to determine if has taken drugs.

The committee also asked the judge in charge of the

case, Azer Orujov, to hold hearings in a large courtroom and let them be filmed. Zahidov has been held since 23 June.

3 august 2006

Opposition journalist on hunger strike for past week in protest against arrest on drug charge

Reporters Without Borders voiced alarm today about the health risks involved in the hunger strike that Sakit Mirza Zahidov of the opposition daily Azadlig began on 25 July in Bayil prison in protest against his arrest on a charge of drug trafficking. His children, who are also worried about his condition, asked him to call off the protest, but he refused.

A support committee formed by Azadlig journalists to campaign for his release has meanwhile established many irregularities in the way the authorities have handled the case.

“In view of the concern about his health, we urge the Azeri judicial and prison authorities to take great care in this case,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We call for him to be released until his trial because he has heart problems. And to avoid any miscarriage of justice, we also call for an independent investigation into the conduct of the police in this case, as Zahidov is adamant that he is not a drug trafficker.”

Arrested by interior ministry anti-narcotics agents on 23 June, Zahidov has been charged under article 234.4.3 of the criminal code with “purchase of a large quantity of drugs with the aim of reselling it.” The police claim they found 10 grammes of heroin in his pocket at the time of his arrest, but Zahidov insists they planted it on him.

Led by Emin Huseynov, a former correspondent for the news agency Turan who has himself been in poor health every since being beaten by police in October 2003, the support committee says the charges were trumped up.

Among the many irregularities it has discovered is the fact that the driver of the taxi Zahidov was in at the time of his arrest has never been questioned as a witness. Also, as of 26 July, Zahidov’s office and apartment had not been searched. And the police have not found any buyer or seller of drugs who might have been in contact with Zahidov.

The authorities have produced no evidence that Zahidov was a drug pusher aside from a statement signed by doctors at the Republican Drug Centre saying he is not a drug addict and therefore must have had the drugs for the purposes or resale.

At the same time, the authorities also say there were traces of drugs in Zahidov’s blood because he had a urine test that was positive. But no copy of any drug test report has been produced. Some of the committee’s members took a drug test, and were told by an expert that blood tests are not usually carried out in Azerbaijan. The committee also established that Zahidov’s name is not on any list of people have been tested for drugs. When asked about this, the health ministry’s press office refused to comment.

In view of all these discrepancies, the committee addressed an appeal for Zahidov’s release to the national security minister, the attorney general, the health minister and the president. But so far there has been no response from any official.

Zahidov has a reputation for criticising government officials, parliamentarians and religious leaders in his articles. No date has yet been set for a trial. According to his lawyer, Elchin Gambarov, he faces up to 12 years in prison.

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