Alongside reports in recent weeks of increased harassment of other prominent journalists such as Khadija Ismayilova, the charges against Huseynov represent a renewed assault on free expression in an already repressive atmosphere. The ruling family in Azerbaijan has little toleration for public debate critical of the government, as critical speech is subject to harsh penalties, access to independent media websites are blocked, and journalists and activists are routinely imprisoned. Defamation lawsuits, as well as other trumped-up legal and administrative charges, are frequently used to silence and punish journalists, who are unlikely to receive a fair trial. Recently the government expanded the scope of criminal defamation and amended martial law to expand permissible information controls.
“The escalation of legal harassment against Mehman Huseynov—over the holiday period, and just months before his release—is an inhumane step that perfectly embodies the calculated crackdown against dissenting voices in Azerbaijan,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “We condemn these brazen tactics against Huseynov, and call for authorities to withdraw these new charges and to give him speedy access to his lawyers and to adequate medical care.”
PEN America has previously advocated on behalf of journalists and writers in Azerbaijan including Mehman Huseynov, Akram Aylisli, and Rashad Ramazanov. In 2015, crusading investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova received the PEN/Freedom to Write Award.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org