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Azerbaijan: Citizen media in defense of detained activists, bloggers

Although most activity can be found on Facebook where users continue to update each other on the case of video blogger Adnan Hajizade and youth activist Emin Milli, detained last week and sentenced to two months pre-trial detention, less activity might be visible in the mainstream media, but the situation is changing. Nevertheless, citizen media remains the main source of information.

In a personal post from the heart, Fighting windmills? Take a pill. remembers her friends now sitting in prison on what most consider to be a politically-motivated charges.

I have a new desktop picture – Emin waving Azerbaijani flag in front of the UN building in New York. The flag of the country he has been working and living for, the one he dreams to be liberated of corruption and dishonest politicians, the one he came back from New York for, the one, he and Adnan will spend at least two months of their lives in jail for..

[…]

“Being a dissident is an honor” said one of my Georgian friends, when I told him the whole story. That's pretty much what Emin would say, I thought. And then, imagined what he would do if one of us would get detained.

[…]

They say “You can imprison my body, but not my soul”. Indeed, they can take away Emin and Adnan but the love we have for each other will never fade away, no matter what. The purest, unconditional, can't-buy-for-oil-money love, that makes my friends wait for me to become an aunt and make sure I get home safely, the one that made 50 people sing Azerbaijani anthem in front of the Sabail Court. The kind of love, that encourages people all around the world forget about the fear and fight for the freedom of our friends no matter what.

[…]

United we stand!

Humay, another friend of Hajizade, also posted a personal note on her Facebook page to mark his birthday.

Now pompous words would sound bitter, but it’s true that it was a privilege to know Adnan so closely. He is indeed of a rare kind. In a conformist land as ours is, Adnan lived according to his own truths, defining himself over and over again with frustrations at a time, but never afraid of challenging himself or others. […]

[…]

Adnan, ezizim, you are 26 today. You are celebrating this day behind the bars. Or my guess is you are not celebrating it. But we are celebrating. I am glad that you came into this world and into our lives. I am glad you showed me how much a person can do just by himself. I am glad you proved that one man with beliefs is worth of thousand with interests. I am glad that you dared to dream and took us on a journey too. Please keep on dreaming. I don’t want a requiem for a dream. And please come back. We miss you here.

Meanwhile, Media Helping Media, a non-profit organization which assists journalists and activists in countries such as Azerbaijan, says that blogs and Twitter were crucial in getting word out of Hajizade and Milli's arrest long before the traditional media did.

It took the traditional news wires at least 24 hours to catch up with the coverage of the arrest of two youth movement leaders in Azerbaijan. By that time dozens of blogs had been updated and probably thousands of tweets sent. The news was everywhere; everywhere except on the mainstream media. When the news wires arrived they were reminders of yesterday's news. Probably not too late for the media that feeds off and reproduces the wires, but too late for those who want news as it happens.

[…]

That was all going on during Friday and Saturday. I couldn't find a word about the story on traditional mainstream media.

Almost 24 hours later the wires caught up. First AFP filed a piece ‘Bloggers held on hooliganism charges in Azerbaijan: rights group’ and then Reuters ‘Azeri blogger detained, oil major presses case’.

Granted, Reuters added an interesting new angle; that BP, who employed one of the arrested men, was pushing for his release.

Both good pieces again re-tweeted and spread virally and quickly, but 24-hours behind.

Glad I didn't wait for the wires or traditional, mainstream media to catch up. If I had, 24 hours would have been lost and I would have been reading yesterday's news.

Incidentally, as today is Adnan Hajizade's birthday, Global Voices Online readers can leave any messages on either the OL! blog, or one now online to support the detained activists. 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.

  • Update: Humay’s note from Facebook is now available on the OL! blog:

    http://ol-az.blogspot.com/2009/07/celebrating-adnan-or-i-dont-want.html

  • Pingback: Armenia & the South Caucasus | The Caucasian Knot » Azerbaijan: Citizen media in defense of detained activists, bloggers()

  • For immediate release – 13 July 2009

    Azerbaijan: ARTICLE 19 Deplores Harassment of Internet Journalists

    ARTICLE 19 calls on the Government of Azerbaijan to immediately drop the politically-motivated charges of hooliganism against two journalists, Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, who are currently being held in pre-trial detention.

    Milli, who works for ANTV Online, and Hajizade, a video blogger, were detained on 8 July 2009, after they reported being assaulted in a Baku restaurant to police. They were allegedly attacked in a restaurant by two individuals who demanded that they stop discussing politics; Milli and Hajizade had been sitting with a group of young people, discussing the activities of their youth organisations. When Milli and Hajizade appealed to police at the Sabail District Police Department and requested medical assistance, they were instead detained under charges of “hooliganism” (under Article 221.2.1 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code). On 10 July, the Sabail District Court ordered Milli and Hajizade to be detained for two months in pre-trial detention.

    ARTICLE 19 is concerned that these events are another measure by the Azerbaijani authorities to silence independent and opposition journalists.

    This is not the first time the Azerbaijani authorities have used criminal charges, such as “hooliganism” to intimidate journalists in cases considered to be politically motivated. In November 2007, the editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper Azadliq, Ganimat Zahid, was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison in March 2008. A similar charge was used in the case of Yeni Musavat columnist Mahal Ismayiloglu, who was convicted on 1 July 2009 and received a two-year suspended sentence.

    “It is unacceptable that these two men, who were subjected to an unprovoked attack, should now face criminal charges,” comments Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “The authorities are persecuting the victims, rather than the perpetrators, in a manner which looks entirely politically motivated.”

    Milli and Hajizade’s detention happens against a backdrop of other disturbing actions by the Azerbaijani authorities, which have had a negative impact on freedom of expression in the country. For example, on 10 May 2009, police used physical force against four journalists who were covering events related to the annual Flower Holiday, as well as beating members of the public and detaining approximately 50 demonstrators. In addition, the Azerbaijani authorities have yet to disclose the findings of their investigation into the killing of 13 people at the State Oil Academy in Baku on 30 April 2009. Journalists attempting to investigate these killings were prevented by authorities from accessing information.

    The Government of Azerbaijan has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and ARTICLE 19 calls on the authorities to respect its commitments under international law. We also request the authorities to immediately release Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade without charge, and to thoroughly investigate and prosecute those responsible for assaulting them.

    NOTES TO EDITORS:

    • For more information, please contact Nathalie Losekoot, Senior Programme Officer, Europe, nathalie@article19.org ; tel +44 20 7324 2509.

    • The “Flower Holiday” is an annual celebration of the birthday of former President Geydar Aliyev on 10 May. This year students called for it to be cancelled, to commemorate 13 people killed at the State Oil Academy in Baku on 30 April 2009.

  • The former Country Director of the National Democratic Institute in Azerbaijan isn’t so impressed, however:

    […] The most recent example comes from Baku, where two Azeri youth activists were beaten up by sportsmenki and tossed in jail for doing little more than having dinner at a downtown Baku restaurant.

    Since this happened, I have been invited to no fewer than six groups that express support for them, but have not joined one. I feel bad about this, but the only things less effective than Azeri youth activists are the Facebook groups set up to “draw international attention” to their situation. (Harsh? I know from Azeri youth activists). Furthermore, they fail to achieve even that amorphous goal: the tepid support most of the groups receive does little but illustrate what is already screamingly obvious — very few outside Azerbaijan care what goes on there. And after generating all the international attention, then what?

    http://quirkglobalstrategies.com/blog/?p=76

    However, such criticism unfair, in my opinion. Firstly, because outside attention which results in letters such as Article 19, alerts from RSF as well as mention made of the case by the UK government and EU on Aliyev’s visit to England are necessary.

    Secondly, when I look at such Facebook groups anyway, the majority of members are in Azerbaijan and citizens of that country. Therefore, not only are they using social networking sites well to communicate among themselves, they are also using them and especially blogs to take the message further.

    These are all tools and they seem to be using them very well indeed. What other “offline” actions they’re planning is known only to them.

  • Press Release PR-200907#02

    July 13, 2009

    AZERBAIJANI-AMERICAN ORGANIZATIONS CONCERNED OVER THE DETENTION OF YOUTH ACTIVISTS, CALL FOR THEIR RELEASE

    NEW YORK, LOS ANGELES – Azerbaijani-American Council (AAC) and Azerbaijan Society of America (ASA) express their concern about the violence incident involving young Azerbaijani civil society activists, Adnan Hajizade and Emin Abdullayev (Milli), and their subsequent detention by the authorities in Azerbaijan.

    On July 8, 2009, Adnan Hajizade, the graduate of the University of Richmond and founder of the OL! Youth movement and Emin Milli, a co-founder of the Western-educated Alumni Network, were reported to come under a physical attack of two individuals while dining at a restaurant in Baku[1]. According to the independent media rights watchdog, Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), Hajizade suffered a broken nose in the attack, while Milli sustained a leg and other injuries[2]. Upon filing a complaint about the attack with the police, both Hajizade and Milli were detained on charges of hooliganism under the article 222.1 of the criminal code. According the spokesperson from the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry, the attackers were released as “they tried to restore order and had been beaten by Milli, Hajizade, and their group”[3]. The Court further sentenced Hajizade and Milli to two months of detention pending trial[2].

    Both youth activists are the outspoken critics of government, particularly on the topics of democracy and civil rights. Most recently, they spoke up against the amendments to the law on NGOs currently discussed in Azerbaijani parliament, and prepared a video prank depicting an imported donkey which supports the rights of donkeys, plays a violin and comments on the proposed NGO legislature. The video is claimed to may have been the reason for the incident[4].

    The U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan called upon the country’s authorities to ensure that a proper legal and medical access is granted to Hajizade and Milli, and to exercise a due process in the course of investigation[5]. Likewise, the governments of Germany, Norway and Austria called for an immediate release of the detainees[3] as did a number of local NGOs and Hajizade’s former employer, the British Petroleum[1].

    Representing Azerbaijani-American community, AAC and ASA strongly urge the Azerbaijani authorities to release Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli and to further pursue their case in a fair and transparent manner, in accordance with their constitutional rights. We also express our hope for a speedy resolution of the case in line with Azerbaijan’s membership commitments to the Council of Europe and other human rights organizations.

    http://www.azeris.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=95:aac-youth-detention-2009&catid=3:pr&Itemid=2

  • Pingback: Global Voices Online » Azerbaijan: Social Networks and Youth Activism()

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  • Pingback: La globosfera responde con una vídeo campaña en favor de la liberación de los bloggers Adnan Hajizade y Emin Milli | Periodismo Ciudadano()

  • Pingback: Global Voices Online » Azerbaijan: Activists’ support site goes down()

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