US deputy assistant secretary of state Matthew Bryza has called for the resolution of the case of bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada, who were jailed in July for hooliganism after they published a satirical video online.
Milli and Hajizada were sentenced to two months' pre-trial detention after the authorities accused them of hooliganism, a decision that was upheld in a closed hearing on 20 July. The trial is due to be held in September. Their lawyers are planning
to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The government was said to be angered by the online video, which poked fun at a local news story about government authorities importing donkeys from Germany. In the video, Adnan Hajizada is wearing a donkey suit and addressing journalists in a mock news
conference. The video was produced and posted online by both Hajizada and Milli.
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns today's prison sentences given to two video bloggers detained in July on fabricated charges of hooliganism and inflicting minor bodily harm.
Judge Araz Huseynov with the Sabail District Court in Baku handed Emin Milli who runs an online video blog known as ANTV, a two and a half year jail term, and Adnan Hajizade, a video blogger and coordinator of the Azerbaijani youth movement Ol!, a
two-year prison sentence for allegedly harming two men in a restaurant, according to international press reports.
Milli and Hajizade had posted political and socially satirical video sketches that criticized government policies and social issues in the weeks prior to their initial arrest in July. They had interviewed local residents and posted their opinions online,
sharing them through networking sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Among the issues discussed on their blogs were education, corruption, and the poor infrastructure in Azerbaijan.
Baku police detained Milli and Hajizade on July 8, after the bloggers reported that they had been physically attacked at a local restaurant. Milli and Hajizade were debating politics with friends when two unknown men interrupted their conversation and
started a brawl, they said. When the bloggers went to report the incident, they were arrested for hooliganism ; it turned out, the men who had attacked them had told the police that they had been the victims. The bloggers had been in custody since
their initial detention. A second charge, inflicting minor bodily harm, was added later on.
Both domestic and international rights groups have condemned the arrest of Milli and Hajizade as staged by authorities in retaliation for their blogs' critical content. In a number of entries, the two interviewed local residents and filmed street
gatherings in protest of official policies. According to multiple sources, a satirical video the bloggers produced and posted on YouTube in late June was the main reason for their incarceration. The video criticized Azerbaijan's alleged import of donkeys
from abroad at excessively high prices. The video sketch depicts a pseudo press conference, at which Hajizade, wearing a donkey suit, talks to a group of Azerbaijani journalists ; Milli reportedly filmed.
We call on Azerbaijani authorities to scrap these fictitious charges against Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade and release them, CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. Police entrapment such as provoking a fight has
become a tool for silencing critical journalists and writers in Azerbaijan.
Commenting on the guilty verdict today, Judge Araz Huseynov said it was based on police reports and the alleged injuries of the two plaintiffs, Emin Huseynov, the director of the Baku-based Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, whose
representatives were monitoring the trial, told CPJ. Huseynov added that the judge had ignored witness testimony by restaurant patrons who said they saw the two men attack the bloggers and not vice versa.
ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned by the Azerbaijani Supreme Court's decision to uphold rulings in the case of bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade. ARTICLE 19 believes that Milli and Hajizade, who are imprisoned on charges of hooliganism, were targeted
for expressing opinions critical of the Azerbaijani authorities.
On 19 August, the Azerbaijani Supreme Court considered the case of imprisoned bloggers and youth activists Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade. In its decision, the Court upheld the lower courts' rulings, which convicted Milli and Hajizade of hooliganism and
sentenced them to two and a half years and two years of imprisonment respectively.
Milli and Hajizade's lawyers plan to apply to the European Court of Human Rights now that the domestic appeals process has been exhausted. The OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media and the Council of Europe High Commissioner for Human Rights have
both expressed concern regarding Milli and Hajizade's imprisonment, noting that the move seemed to be an attempt by the Azerbaijani authorities to silence critical voices.
Ten international NGOs, among them Freedom House, Article 19, Index on Censorship, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, International
Federation of Journalists, Media Diversity Institute, Press Now, Open Society Foundations, Reporters without borders, and World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, adopted on September 9 a joint statement following their three-day mission to
The mission aimed to meet journalists, human rights defenders, government officials and other civil society activists on critical freedom of expression issues in advance of the country's parliamentary elections planned in November.
Representatives from the organizations highlighted their serious concerns regarding the deteriorating freedom of expression situation in Azerbaijan, including the continued imprisonment of journalists and bloggers, acts of violence and ill-treatment
The international human rights mission called for Azerbaijan's authorities:
to free immediately the three jailed journalists and never practice such kind of arrests in future
to launch an immediate investigation into the cases of suppressing and hunting media
to decriminalize defamation
to spread honestly and fairly the state advertisement
to establish a commission supporting media
to establish an independent body to regulate broadcasting-related issues
to lift up the ban on foreign radio stations
to invest in the Internet and improve the access to Internet
to provide candidates with the same access to the on-line media during the election campaigns, and etc.
Baku's Appeal Court has ordered the release of blogger Adnan Hajizade, he had served half of his two-year sentence on
controversial charges of hooliganism. His co-defendent, blogger, Emin Abdullayev remains in prison serving a two and a half year term.
The case of the two young Azeri bloggers sparked an international outcry. The men had been actively using social media to mobilise opposition against the government, speaking out on a variety of issues, including government corruption, misuse of
oil revenues, censorship and education.
Several weeks prior to their arrest, the pair posted a video on YouTube mocking the government's decision to spend a vast amount of money on importing two donkeys from Germany. Locals believe the tongue-in-cheek video angered the regime and was
the real reason for their arrest.
After the Baku Appeals Court released blogger Adnan Hajizade, the Committee to Protect Journalists urged Azerbaijani authorities to release two other imprisoned journalists, Emin Milli and Eynulla Fatullayev. Both Milli and Fatullayev have their
appeals pending at the same court.
The Baku court overturned a lower court's decision to deny Hajizade early release, and ordered him to be freed on parole, local and international press reported. According to Reuters, the court did not acquit Hajizade.
Authorities arrested Milli and Hajizade, bloggers and youth activists, in July 2009 after they tried to report an attack on them at a local restaurant to authorities. A district court in Baku convicted them in November 2009 on charges of
hooliganism and inflicting of minor bodily harm. Hajizade was given a two-year prison sentence; Milli was given two and a half years. CPJ has concluded that Hajizade and Milli were jailed in retaliation for a satirical video they produced and
posted on YouTube in June 2009.