In Azerbaijan, authorities use ‘Harlem Shake’ to silence activist

The recent arrest of Ilkin Rustamzadeh highlights how Azerbaijan’s authorities use trumped up charges to silence messages they are not comfortable with, blogger Ali Novruzov writes from Baku.

On 17 May, Rustamzadeh, a university student and member of the “Free Youth” organisation, was arrested for a “Harlem Shake” video posted on YouTube. It did not matter that Rustamzadeh had no part in posting it or any of the other huge number of videos contributing to the viral dance meme.

Charged with hooliganism as well as disturbing public order for allegedly being involved with the video’s organisation, Rustamzadeh was immediately handed him two-month pre-trial detention. According to Rustamzadeh’s lawyer, investigators in the case have linked him to a “Harlem Shake” video filmed on Baku Boulevard.

While Rustamzadeh has not created viral videos, he has been active in a grassroots campaign calling for investigation into frequent Azerbaijani soldier deaths. In 2012, 97 people were killed, and between the start of this year and 23 April, there have been 29 deaths. The campaign has also been calling for the government to put more preventative measures in place.

The campaign’s activists have been targeted by the government with waves of arrests and a counter-campaign against members of the group. There have even been allegations made that this grassroots campaign is actually the work of external forces, like the National Democratic Institute.

Today on Index: Putin’s war on dissent in Russia | Free expression in the news

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