This weekend’s stabbing of Rafiq Tagi is a stark reminder of just how risky it can be to write about politics or religion in Azerbaijan. Emin Milli, who was jailed after criticising the government, describes the dangers of speaking out
The European Court of Human Rights will this month examine complaints against Azerbaijan filed by bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade. The pair claim that their detention from July 2009 to November 2010 and subsequent conviction violated articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The complaint filed by Milli and Hajizade says that Article 6, on the right to a fair trial, was violated because they were allowed only belated access to their lawyers and because they court took no account of what their lawyers said.
Article 8 on respect for private and family life was violated, according to the complaint, because the two bloggers were denied family visits while held and certain family members were not allowed to testify at the trial.
Article 10 protects the right to freedom of expression, including the “freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”
The two prominent youth activists were arrested in July 2009 on charges of “hooliganism” and “inflicting minor bodily harm”, after a fight in a restaurant in downtown Baku. Reports and eyewitness accounts have said the pair were talking among a group of other civil society figures when they were severely beaten by two sportsmen, who it has been alleged were government-orchestrated provocateurs. After Milli and Hajizade filed a complaint with police, they were arrested, although their assailants were let go, raising suspicions that the duo’s attack and arrest were linked to their activism.
In November of the same year, having both been held in prison for over four months, the pair were sentenced. Hajizade received a two-year sentence and Milli two-and-a-half years. They were released a year later, although their convictions have not been overturned. The Presidency of the European Union, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and various rights groups all condemned the verdict.
Both bloggers had been prolific in using social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to mobilise Azerbaijani youth mobilise opposition against the government, speaking out against high-level corruption, misuse of oil revenues and censorship.
Prior to their arrest, the pair had earned their title “Donkey Bloggers” by posting a video satirising the country’s government for having spent a large amount of state money importing two donkeys from Germany. Rights groups had suspected the video was a key trigger in the bloggers’ arrest.
This morning Baku’s Appeal Court 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 – known as Milli, 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.
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe voiced concerns about the sentences and the “inevitable chilling effect on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan”.
Bloggers Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli were sentenced on 11 November to two years and two-and-a-half years in prison respectively. Human rights groups and analysts believe the sentences are politically motivated, and that the they were sentenced on trumped-up charges. Before the incident and their subsequent arrest, the bloggers had criticised the government through a satirical video posted online featuring a donkey giving a press conference. The bloggers’ lawyer Isakhan Ashurov said that they were planning an appeal, and would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary. (Hurriyet Daily News/AFP)