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PEN Day Of The Imprisoned Writer: Azerbaijani Is Voice Of Talysh Minority

"Voice of the Talysh" editor Hilal Mammadov in a June 2012 photo
"Voice of the Talysh" editor Hilal Mammadov in a June 2012 photo
Hilal Mamedov was arrested on June 21, 2012, in Azerbaijan and charged with possession of 30 grams of heroin. If convicted, he faces three to 12 years in an Azerbaijani prison.

Now he is one of seven Azerbaijani writers listed by the nongovernmental organization PEN International as imprisoned writers.

The 53-year-old editor in chief of the Baku newspaper "Tolyshi sado" (Voice Of The Talysh) has been held virtually incommunicado since his arrest.

In a Baku court in this summer, Mamedov was immediately silenced by courtroom guards when he tried to speak on camera to an RFE/RL Azerbaijan Service correspondent, describing how "when I was going home from the hospital, I was arrested..."

In July, Mamedov's lawyer told journalists he could face additional charges of spying for Iran and inciting ethnic unrest.

PEN Day of the Imprisoned Writer: Jailed Voices That Must Not Be Silenced

For years, Mamedov -- a mathematician by education -- has been a leader of Azerbaijan's ethnic Talysh minority, inheriting the mantle after Novruzali Mamedov (no relation) died while in prison in 2009, a death his supporters suspect was the result of torture. When Novruzali Mamedov was arrested in 2008 and charged with spying for Iran, Hilal Mamedov formed a committee for his defense. After Novruzali died, Hilal continued to fight for his rehabilitation.

Now, however, Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus fears that Hilal Mamedov is in danger of repeating Novruzali Mamedov's fate.

"Hilal Mamedov was tortured, also as was Novruzali Mammadov," Yunus says. "And there is great pressure on all the Talysh community of the south of Azerbaijan that they talk against Hilal Mamedov."

According to the Institute for Democracy and Peace and the nongovernmental organization Front Line Defenders, Mamedov was arrested in order to keep him from appearing on a Russian television talk show, where he planned to criticize the Azerbaijani government for spending millions of dollars to host the Eurovision song contest while doing nothing for the Talysh.

The other Azerbaijani writers listed as imprisoned by PEN International are Nijat Aliyev, Ramin Baymarov, Nazim Guliyev, Ayudin Janiyev, Taleh Khasmammadov, and Avaz Zeynalli.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijan Service contributed to this report from Baku

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