Imprisoned “Azadlig” Newspaper journalist/satiric calls on opposition to unite
Sakit Zahidov’s interview to "Yeni Musavat" Newspaper, published on 21 February 2007
"Azadlig" newspaper satiric journalist Sakit Zahidov answers questions we sent to him through his family members. Zahidov is currently receiving treatment in the neurology department of the chief medical facility of the Justice Ministry's Penitentiary System.
Our first question was about his overall well-being. He said:
– Not considering some health problems I’ve had, internally I have felt myself free during my imprisonment. Regarding the situation in the prison, I would like to mention that Prison #14 is the harshest "zone", and no one is entitled to talk about it. If you do, they might send you to solitary confinement. However I do speak about it.
– You weren't pardoned. How did this affect you?
– I was one hundred percent sure that my name wouldn't be on the pardon list. Human rights advocates were trying to make me believe that I should definitely write a pardon letter since it was the rule of the procedure. The guilty party in my case is the members of Pardon Committee. It seems like all members of the “clan” are my enemies. In my writings and poems I always praised and defended truth. I know that me not being in the pardon decree is solely related to Ilham Aliyev's will.
-The government pardoned 5 of imprisoned journalists, but didn't take the same steps for Ganimat Zahid, Eynulla Fatullayev and you (IRFS ed. also Mushfig Huseynov). What do you think about this?
– We are people of justice. The devil has a lot of sins in front of justice and can't win truth. So it punishes creatures of the earth. However our forefathers said, "Truth may become more delicate, but it cannot be broken.”
– A pardon decree is expected to be signed in March? Do you think that you will be on the list that time?
-I have a year and 3 months of imprisonment left. With the help of God I will manage to finish this period and return to my previous job. I am a humanist, but I will never forgive the people who slandered me. And I see pardon decree to be signed in March as I see the person on the head of pardon committee…
– What is your attitude towards the freed journalists who wrote pardon letters…
-That same night some prisoner friends and I set a table with sweets in honor of the pardoned journalists. I was very happy for them. Other prisoners and employees there were upset about me not being pardoned. I was trying to comfort them and they were surprised about this. "You are such a strange person, we should be ones to comfort you," they told me.
-How did you receive the news about Ganimat Zahid's arrest?
(IRFS ed. Ganimat Zahid is Sakit Zahidov’s brother)
– During the Soviet era some people were arrested through witness testimony from immoral women. Now there are so many immoral "men" here that there's no need for those women. The person who ordered to slander Ganimat and the person who implemented this order are this kind of "men." I knew that Ganimat would be slandered and arrested sooner or later. However I didn't know that someone who ate dinner with us would commit such a dishonest act. Vusal Hasanov and his kind are the result of the long-term external and internal policy of our government. Regarding the court proceedings, I would like to remind Judge Sudaba Mammadova of some historical heroism. Approximately in 1994-1995 a judge was ordered to sentence someone in the Jalilabad region. Instead the listened to his conscience and exonerated that person. After this the judge tendered his resignation. Of course, it is not wise to expect such heroism from a judge in this era, but Ganimat will remain a hero of his era; either in prison or in freedom. He is Ganimat and will be Ganimat for good.. Vusal Hasanovs and Sevgiladas will be government's most expensive trophies. God grant their "abundance"!
– Why did they use humiliating charges against you and Ganimat Zahid?
– With this the government wanted to discredit us, but the effect has been the opposite and we rise in the eyes of society. We feel this everywhere and this weakness of the government makes it lesser. I am proud of "hooligan" Ganimat. And Ganimat enjoys my satire I write when I am "intoxicated.” An unnamed source told me once that his relatives who are high-ranking government officials expressed their sympathy for me and Ganimat openly. The government won't ever be able to calm its bad temper. Proud has a head, defeated has a stone (monument). If my 98 year-old dad gets arrested tomorrow don't be surprised. They’ll say he organized a criminal group or planted narcotics, etc… Once I asked the Head of Prison #14, "If my dad is arrested, can we place him in the 'medical unit'?" He said, "Can anything like this happen?" I thought, "If my question made the chief think then it is possible." Poor daddy…
-Parliament Assembly of the Council of Europe co-rapporteurs Andreas Herkel and Yevgeniya Jivkova made contradicting statements about journalists’ arrests while visiting Azerbaijan. What is your position about this?
– I would very much like the Council of Europe and the OSCE achieve freedom of assembly and the formation of a Central Election Commission on the parity basis. If I were given permission by the Ministry of Justice to meet with them I would have told them how Azerbaijani Parliamentarians are "cheap" and have no influence. Recently an appeal sent to the president and to the Head of Prosecutor's Office by 17 deputies to release Ganimat Zahid on bail was denied. I assess this as the refusal of an appeal from the populations of 17 regions. I felt sorry for those 17 deputies. If the co-rapporteurs were to see me I would have revealed the truth.
– Does the activity of the working group created for political prisoners satisfy you?
– I want to thank those ladies who care about us although this is their professional duty. I promised Mrs. Novella that I will dedicate a poem to her after I am freed and publish it in the newspaper. I will keep my promise. It is up to them to quit or not quit the working group. I respect all the ladies. But there are a few men among them. They should have kept their promises. Regarding Sahib Mammadov, "Bizim Yol" newspaper correspondent Gan Turali said the truth about him.
-How is the attitude of prisoners and employees towards you in prison?
-I have never noticed anything disrespectful from any prisoner. It turns out people are able to respect their Mirza (IRFS ed. Translation for Mirza is "teacher," Sakit Zahidov’s penname is Mirza Sakit). I haven't had a serious problem with the employees either. They see me as the government's hostage, not as a prisoner. They all damn the ones that turned me into hostage. I distribute my poems among the prisoners and they give them to their relatives who come to visit them. They also ask their relatives to copy and distribute them in their communities. I myself organize all this. By the way, up to this date 234 people have appealed to me to be a member of the Popular Front Party. I have made sure that these applications reach their destinations.
– Do you write anything in prison?
– I have written hundreds of poems and satire in the prison so far. I sent some of them to "Azadlig" newspaper. God willing, I will publish all of them after I am released. In the near future my third book will be published. I am working on a novel at the moment. Problems like crimes happening on the governmental level and in the law-enforcement bodies, dishonesty in the court system, keeping people busy with show programs, the identities of narco-barons, corruption in prisons, bribery, and the visible and invisible sides of crime world will be reflected in the novel.
-Are you going to return to "Azadlig" newspaper after you are freed?
– I would never trade "Azadlig" newspaper for the "New York Times" or "Washington Post". If I get released from prison safe and sound I will work at "Azadlig" again. To betray "Azadlig" newspaper is like betraying your own parent.
– Your message to your colleagues?
– First of all I want to tell this to my colleagues, "I swear on the sacred blood of our martyrs that I have never been either the carrier or user of narcotics.. Scoundrel police planted it in my pocket. And I swear on the spirits of sacred again that I will never change my writing style. I wish that my colleagues be brave, objective, sincere writers. One of my wishes is to see the opposition forces to come together as a fist. Today opposition leaders don't have the right not to come together. The salvation of these people depends on this unity. Anyone who tries to hinder this unity is the #1 enemy of the people.