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Azerbaijan: Youth activist, prominent blogger imprisoned after trial behind closed doors

In what might be the first case of a prominent blogger being assaulted and detained in the South Caucasus, two youth activists were yesterday imprisoned for two months pre-trial investigative detention in what many consider to be a travesty of justice.

Denied access to the trial held behind closed doors, one Facebook status line update reported that the German Human Rights Ombudsperson, coincidentally in Baku at the time, considered its conduct to be in violation of Azerbaijan's international commitments.

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The evening Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada were assaulted and later detained by police, Global Voices Online Azerbaijan author Ali S. Novruzov informed readers of the case. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) also reported on the incident.

Emin Milli is known as a critic of the government who is very active in social networks like Facebook. Hajizada is one of the founders of the OL Youth group, which highlights the social problems of young people with popular videos shared on Youtube and social networking sites.

Human rights activist Leyla Yunus said the way the activists were attacked and then arrested leads her to conclude the whole incident could've been planned by the special services and police. She cited the case of Qanimat Zahid, editor in chief of the “Azadliq” newspaper, who was sentenced to four years in prison on hooliganism charges after being attacked by an unknown person.

The U.S., German, and Norwegian embassies have expressed concern and hope that the government will punish those who attacked the activists and release Milli and Hajizada.

Considered by many to be two of the most prominent youth movements, both OL! and the AN Network have been prolific in their use of new media tools such as blogs, social networking sites and YouTube to promote non-violence, modernity, tolerance and democracy in Azerbaijan.

We believe that to ensure a healthy future, Azerbaijan needs independently thinking, well educated and capable youth. The youth should also carry the responsibility for the future of the state and statehood. […] “OL!” Movement is a movement of the youth who, regardless of their nationality, language, religion and gender, strive for the sustainable and comprehensive development of Azerbaijan.

The young activists and their friends had already appeared on the radar screen with a protest demonstration dispersed by police in May during which Mili had also been detained along with several others. Indeed, on the day of the trial, RFE/RL wondered if it wasn't some of this work which attracted the attention of the authorities.

We wrote yesterday about the arrests of two Azerbaijani youth activists. The video above, produced and distributed by the OL and AN youth movements, is the type of thing that likely got them into hot water.

The head of OL, Adnan Hajizade, is one of the two arrested.

In the video, members of OL are making fun of the government for its “waste” of oil money. After local media reported that Azerbaijan had imported two donkeys from abroad each for a price of $41,000, one of the donkeys holds a press conference:

Reaction was quick to appear online. Utilizing Facebook and Twitter, updates on their detention and later trial appeared on the Internet.

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Personal reflections on the incident also appeared on blogs. Fighting windmills? Take a pill. was particularly upset.

Two days ago I was hanging out at the roof party hosted by our friend, drinking wine, chatting with my friends, enjoying weather and life in general. “I love Baku in summer”, I said. And really felt happy about living in this city once, for a long time.

Today everything seems different. Weather is annoying, trees are too green, people are meaningless and two close friends of mine are beaten up, detained and pressed charges in something so obviously set up.

Seven hours in front of the police stations, three hours of sleep hugging laptop and anger, screaming inside of me.

[…]

Four years ago I would get shocked hearing similar stories about injustices in Turkmenistan from a friend of mine. Today I'm living my worst nightmares, fighting for the freedom of two of the best Azerbaijanis, I'm proud to be friends with.

I'm exhausted, worried and angry.
Ask me if I love Baku in summer now.

Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines was similarly distressed, and especially when sentence was passed down. The blogger, however, also notes the effect the case has had on many young people in Azerbaijan.

This post doesn't have a title. This post doesn't have a theme. This post is simply about my frustration and disappointment. This post is about a let- down and everything else that is negative and that I can't explain in words, because, sometimes words are not enough! And finally this post is about outrage and anger about what happened today! Adnan and Emin were sentenced to two months of imprisonment based on charges of hooliganism!!!

[…]

What happened to my country? Why Azerbaijan has become this place where people lie, where there is no trust, where there is so much corruption, that when you get in line, you automatically start thinking that you ought to pay for the line to actually move?! Why there is no more justice?!

[…]

Now I am just checking the facebook and the updates I missed on during these few hours that I didn't have connection to the internet. I see sadness, I see rage, but most importantly I see no hope! Some of the posts are full of anger, others hatred, while some are words of support for Emin and Adnan!

A Facebook page has been set up in support of Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada. There is also a petition which can be signed online here. OL! has a YouTube channel here. Updates on the case can also be found on the OL! blog.

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