Azerbaijan: Outspoken blogger released

An Azerbaijani blogger who had spent 15 months in prison for criticising the government was granted an early release by the supreme court on Monday. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was arrested in March 2011 after calling on social networks for an anti-government protest, but was convicted and sentenced on a charge of evading military service. He will not be able to travel abroad without special permission for another nine months, until the period of his two-year jail sentence is over.

Azerbaijan: Supreme Court upholds Bakhtiyar Hajiyev judgment

The Supreme Court of Azerbaijan upheld the sentence of a young activist and blogger on 6 December. Bakhtiyar Hajiyev was sentenced to two years‘ imprisonment after using Facebook to generate support for the 11 March “Great People’s Day” anti-government protests. The 29-year-old Harvard graduate was charged with evading military service in May, but lost his appeal against the conviction.

Natasha Schmidt, Assistant Editor of Index on Censorship magazine condemned the decision:

“The Azerbaijani authorities have demonstrated once again that they are entirely hostile to freedom of expression and the right to protest. Like activist Jabber Savalan, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev remains in jail on a charge unrelated to his activism, a tactic increasingly employed to silence dissenting voices.”

A report by the International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan, of which Index on Censorship is a member, outlines the dire state of press freedom in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijani Facebook activist jailed for two years

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.