Journalists and human rights activists argue that the recent arrest of a satirical poet for heroin possession is connected with political attacks against opposition media.
The authorities state that Sakit Zakhidov, known by his pen name, Mirza Sakit, a regular contributor to the pro-opposition newspaper Azadlig (Freedom), was arrested on June 23 for carrying and selling 10 grams of heroin.
Zakhidov's colleagues and supporters, however, dismiss the charges as unfounded, noting that they came just three days after a panel discussion on media freedom organized by the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party (YAP). At the discussion, YAP Executive Secretary Ali Akhmedov and Bakhtiyar Sadigov, editor of the parliament-owned official Azerbaijan newspaper, had urged the government to take measures against Mirza Sakit. "No government official or parliament member has avoided his slanders. Someone should put end to it," Akhmedov said that the governing party had previously applied to the Press Council with a complaint about newspapers' publication of Zakhidov's poems, according to news reports.
Sakit Zakhidov's poems, laced with curse words, are written in the 19th century "hajv" style, popular in the poet's native region of Shamakhy in central Azerbaijan. Hajv couples strong criticism with rough language, and follows the structure of Arabic "eruz" poetry.
One of Zakhidov's poems, "What If We Didn't Have Him?" is about the personality cult surrounding the late President Heidar Aliyev. The poems' sharp satire, however, could easily be interpreted as slanderous and a target for lawsuit, commented Rauf Mirgadirov, an analyst for the pro-opposition Zerkalo newspaper, in a recent column.
Some journalists argue that politics prompted Zakhidov's arrest and have signed a petition to President Ilham Aliyev, Heidar's son, for his release. "It is a political order