I applaud your decision to donate to pro-democracy groups the $50,000 honorarium you received for giving a speech in Azerbaijan this past week.
As you may now realize, the source of this money is questionable, and some people in Azerbaijani society interpreted the presentation of this honorarium as an attempt by forces close to Azerbaijan’s authoritarian government to win favor with U.S. President Barack Obama.
I am chairperson of the local pro-democracy, press freedom advocacy group Institute for Reporter’s Freedom and Safety, and I would like to suggest that you donate $20,000 of the $50,000 honorarium to the families of Azerbaijan’s wrongfully imprisoned journalists. All of these journalists were convicted on spurious charges; not a shred of credible evidence was presented in court against these people. The real reason for their imprisonment is relentless criticism of the government and they are internationally recognized as political prisoners.
Ever since these four journalists were imprisoned, their families have faced grave financial difficulties. Eynulla Fatullayev (terrorism and tax evasion), Sakit Zahidov (possession of a narcotic), Ganimat Zahid (hooliganism with infliction of minor bodily harm and Mushfig Huseynov (taking a bribe) were the sole breadwinners in their families. Sakit Zahidov has five children, Ganimat has four children, Mushfig Huseynov has two children and Eynulla Fatullayev was caring for his two elderly parents before he was imprisoned.
In addition to helping Azerbaijan’s wrongfully imprisoned journalists, I hope that the remainder of these funds is spent in a transparent manner through an open grant competition on initiatives that will be implemented in Azerbaijan. In this way, this $50,000 can be returned to the Azeri people.
We look forward to your response to this letter, and would be happy to submit a formal grant proposal regarding the assistance fund for the families of Azerbaijan’s wrongfully imprisoned journalists if necessary.
Chairman, Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety