A Letter to Azimjon Askarov, from Yann Martel

By | November 11, 2014 at 5:44 pm | No comments | Blog | Tags: , , , ,

Each year on November 15, PEN centres and their members observe the Day of the Imprisoned Writer to raise awareness of the unjust imprisonment and censorship of writers around the world. In the lead up to the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, PEN International is publishing an open letter to five imprisoned writers every day. This piece, originally posted on the PEN International website, is a letter written from Yann Martel to Azimjon Askarov – an Uzbek journalist from  Kyrgyzstan who spent his career exposing police corruption. He was convicted in September 2010 of organizing mass disorder and complicity in the murder of a police officer and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Learn more about Azimjon’s case here. 

You’re in jail; I am not

Dear Azimjon,

Azimjon Askarov

Azimjon Askarov

You’re in jail; I am not. That fact remains, and it rankles. The question as to why has a simple answer: I am lucky, and you are brave. My luck is that I live in a country that, broadly speaking, respects the rights of its citizens. How you got to be so brave escapes me. Would I so unflinchingly report on police corruption, as you did? I would like to believe that I would, and that others would stand in solidarity with me should I get into trouble.

That is what I am doing now, expressing my solidarity with you. You are not alone. Not only am I raising my voice on your behalf, calling for your unconditional release, but so is PEN International and its many national affiliates, that is to say, so are thousands of other writers from all around the world.

On a practical level, I should tell you about the meeting that took place in Bishkek, the capital of your country, between President Atambayev and senior members of PEN International. I had the good fortune of being invited to this meeting. We feared that it might be taken merely as a courtesy call by President Atambayev and that within fifteen minutes we would be shown the door. That is not what happened. The meeting went on for over an hour—and most of it was spent talking about you.

In the meantime, please do not lose hope, do not give up. We—a great many we—care and think about you.

To my surprise, it was President Atambayev who raised your case, not us. He brought it up and wouldn’t let it go. Clearly, it annoys him that when he goes abroad, your name and your situation is brought up. That’s exactly what he said. He asserted that your trial had been fair and that you are a criminal, but I didn’t find him very convincing, and I wonder if he really believed what he was saying. And at the end of the meeting he proposed that representatives of PEN International should meet with the public prosecutor. If he thought your conviction was just, why would he allow such a meeting?

I have faith that you will eventually see your conviction overturned and be released unconditionally. I only hope that this comes sooner than later.

In the meantime, please do not lose hope, do not give up. We—a great many we—care and think about you. May we one day meet in person over a cup of coffee, enjoying a leisurely moment of freedom. I will remind you of how brave you are, you will remind me of how lucky I am. We will laugh. I look forward to that day.

Yours truly, in solidarity,

Yann Martel

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