Jailed Azerbaijani bloggers adopted as prisoners of conscience

Two Azerbaijani bloggers jailed after criticizing the country’s government on the internet have been adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

Youth activists Emin Abdullayev (blogger name Emin Milli) and Adnan Hajizade were sentenced on Wednesday to 30 and 24 months’ imprisonment respectively on charges of “hooliganism” and “inflicting minor bodily harm.”

Satirical video by Adnan Hajizade posted on Youtube

They had used online networking tools including Youtube, Facebook and Twitter to disseminate information about the political situation in Azerbaijan.

“The charges against the two activists were fabricated to curtail their right to freedom of expression and in response to their criticism of the Azerbaijani authorities. Both men must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Nicola Duckworth, director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia programme.

The two activists were arrested on 8 July after being attacked by two men in a restaurant in the capital Baku. Witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International said that Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade were assaulted while dining with other activists and gave the following description of the incident.

Two well-built men approached their group and swore at them. When Emin Abdullayev responded, one of the men head-butted him and he fell to the floor.

Adnan Hajizade moved to protect Emin Abdullayev and was struck by the same man, who knocked him to the ground.

The other man then used the table to obstruct the rest of the activists as they attempted to reach their friends, who were kicked and beaten as they lay on the floor. The incident lasted less than two minutes and was stopped by restaurant staff.

Following the incident, Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade went to the police station to lodge a complaint. They took pictures of themselves outside the station clearly showing their injuries.  

They were sent to another police station where they filed reports as victims and requested medical treatment. Instead, police reportedly interrogated them as suspects for five hours, without access to lawyers of their choosing. The two attackers at the restaurant were brought in for a brief interrogation and then set free.

Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade were arrested, charged with “hooliganism” and remanded in custody. On 21 August, charges against the two youth activists were broadened to inflicting minor bodily harm.

Amnesty International has studied the case in detail and is concerned both by the lack of a thorough and impartial investigation into the 8 July incident in the restaurant and by the activists’ trial falling short of fair trial standards.

Police and officials from the prosecuting authority failed to interview witnesses and to obtain video evidence from a security camera that had a view of the restaurant.

According to the defence, during the trial the court refused to consider photographs showing the injuries sustained by Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade. The court also refused to consider video evidence from mobile phones and a security camera with no explanation.

During one of the court hearings on 16 September, six of the bloggers’ supporters were reportedly briefly detained because they were wearing T-shirts that said “I am also a hooligan”. They were held for up to 12 hours before being released. Azerbaijani activists believe that this was an attempt by the authorities to discourage visible support for the two activists.

Emin Abdullayev is a co-founder of the youth group Alumni Network. Adnan Hajizade is a coordinator of the youth movement known as OL!, which advocates non-violence and tolerance.

Emin Abdullayev was also an outspoken critic of changes to the Azerbaijani Constitution set out in a referendum on 18 March 2009.

Days before the incident, Adnan Hajizade placed a satirical video on the internet about the purchase of donkeys from Germany using public funds and posing the question “What about human rights?”.

The video was posted in the wake of a news story about how the Azerbaijani government had allegedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars importing a dozen donkeys in a deal that may have masked corruption or the theft of public funds.

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