BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Human Rights Watch accused the government of Azerbaijan on Tuesday of intimidating a writer at the center of a public row over his depiction of violence between Azerbaijanis and Armenians.
The New York-based group said that foreign governments should urge oil-rich Azerbaijan to investigate what it described as threats against Akram Aylisli.
Aylisli's novel "Stone Dreams" is set in part during the wake of a bitter war in the 1990s between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The book makes allusions to instances of mob violence by Azerbaijanis against helpless Armenians. Many see the work as a condemnation of the Azerbaijani people.
The Azerbaijani government has long laid all the blame for the war on Armenia.
In a decree stripping the 75-year-old writer of state honors and his monthly $1,270 pension, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan said that Aylisli was trying to cast Azerbaijanis in an inhumane light.
On Monday, outspoken pro-government lawmaker Hafiz Hajiyev told local media he is offering a $12,700 reward to anybody that would cut off Aylisli's ear.
Police spokesman Ehsan Zahid said the threat would be investigated, even though nobody has yet made a formal complaint to the authorities. "Nobody, regardless of their position in society, or their social, political, religious and ethnic identity, has any right to mete out their own justice," Zahid said.
People have protested outside Aylisli's home, and copies of his books have been burned. The writer's wife and son have both been dismissed from their jobs amid widespread public acrimony.