Two Azerbaijani bloggers jailed

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Map of Azerbaijan
Image: Alfio.

Two Azerbaijani bloggers were sentenced to prison on Wednesday for "hooliganism", after posting a satirical video on allegations that the Government paid for twelve US$41 thousand (27.5 thousand) donkeys from Germany. In a ruling on Wednesday, blogger Adnan Hajizade received a sentence of two years and Emin Milli two and a half years. Both have been in prison since their arrest on July 8 for fighting in a cafe in Baku.

The video, posted on YouTube in July, depicts a donkey giving a news conference in the ex-Soviet Republic. The government claims that the two incidents are unrelated. However, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have condemned the decision.

Human Rights Watch have called the sentences "a step backward for free expression in Azerbaijan" and want the Azerbaijani government to ensure that the bloggers' appeal considers if the charges were trumped up. "There is a longstanding pattern of Azerbaijani officials filing trumped-up charges against journalists to punish them for critical or satirical comment," said Giorgi Gogia, Human Rights Watch's South Caucasus researcher. "The case against Milli and Hajizade falls squarely in that pattern."

Cquote1.svg Lots of countries in this region, including Armenia, continue to use Soviet-era practices and regulations to silence dissent. Cquote2.svg

—Onnik Krikorian, blogger

Onnik Krikorian, himself a blogger, also says the government often uses similar tactics to silence critics, although usually journalists. "Lots of countries in this region, including Armenia, continue to use Soviet-era practices and regulations to silence dissent. This 'hooliganism' charge is normally used to jail journalists. The only difference here, is that it happened to two young activists because of something posted on YouTube." he commented.

"Online media is becoming increasingly widespread in Azerbaijan, and the OL! youth movement used social and new media very efficiently and extensively. I think this case against Hajizade and Milli was pretty much a warning against youth activists from speaking out. I think that when you have oil, pressure [from the OSCE and the public] really doesn't have much effect." he added.

The two bloggers intend to appeal.

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