An Azerbaijani court sentenced opposition activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev to two years’ imprisonment yesterday, 18 May. Hajiyev used Facebook to generate support for the 11 March “Great People’s Day” anti-government protests, but was sentenced on a charge of evading military service. The charge was brought against him in January. As with Eynulla Fatullayev and Jabbar Savalan, Hajiev has been sentenced on charges unrelated to his activism, a tactic that increasingly used by the Azerbaijani authorities. On 14 May, Azerbaijan won the Eurovision Song Contest in Dusseldorf, prompting free speech campaigners to launch fresh criticism on the government’s treatment of critical voices. Hajiyev was arrested prior to the demonstration, on 4 March, and held in pre-trial detention. On 12 May, the European Parliament criticised the crackdown on opposition protests in Azerbaijan and expressed “deep concern” at the increased number of attacks on journalists and civil society activists using social networks to bring attention to their campaigns. European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek is scheduled to begin a visit to Azerbaijan on 20 May. Hajiyev’s lawyer said he was planning to appeal the verdict.
Read the International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan’s report on the deterioration of media freedom in the country here.