At time of writing, a counter added to the OL! Azerbaijani Youth Movement blog shows that online youth activists Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli have been in detention for 14 days now. The two video bloggers were taken into police custody on 8 July on what many consider to be trumped up charges of “hooliganism.”
Despite significant outcry from leading human rights groups, press freedom watchdogs, as well as the international community itself, the two men were sentenced to two months pre-trial detention on 10 July in a court hearing held behind closed doors.
Their appeal, originally planned for last week, was eventually heard on Monday, but few expected the bloggers to be released. In a comment made on my Frontline Club post, Al Jazeera English's Matthew Collin summed up the mood outside the courtroom.
I was there outside the appeals court in Baku yesterday, and there was a sense of deep sadness among the activists’ close friends that all the international coverage of this case, and the critical statements from European and US officials, hasn't moved the authorities to drop this case and end what seems to have turned into a global embarrassment for Azerbaijan's government.
The video report is available on YouTube, and Collin also made his own post on This is Tbilisi Calling. The journalist-blogger noted the feeling of vulnerability among independent voices in Baku.
I'm in Baku to cover the case for Al Jazeera, and people working in what remains of the independent media here in Azerbaijan have been telling me they are increasingly nervous about who the authorities might target next. This is a country where critical journalists have often been jailed, assaulted and even killed, where international broadcasters have been forced off the airwaves, and where television is relentlessly pro-government. Now anti-government bloggers have received what some of them perceive to be a warning not to step out of line too often.
Facebook and Twitter were used to mobilize youth outside the court room for the appeal, but only a reported 60-70 supporters turned up. Moreover, because of severe restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly, none carried placards or chanted out slogans.
Nevertheless, Twitter was used to get news of the appeal court decision out first. Comments and updates on Facebook from supporters of the two men worldwide also appeared almost instantaneously, leading Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines to write a blog post based on my own.
When, […] the court rejected both of the appeals […], a good friend of mine- Onnik- wrote on his Facebook status: “How judges in the South Caucasus manage to sleep at night?” My response to him was “Trust me, they get paid so much that all they can think of as they go to sleep is how to earn some more the next day and the next day and the day after- they don't care whose lives they ruin and how!”. And this is the reality in Azerbaijan, justice can rarely be found because there is no honesty, nor there is respect to others.
The situation has reached such a culminating point, that today, despite the international pressure, the case of Emin and Adnan, remained the same. Of course, it was so silly of me to think that there might be a small, tiny bit of a chance for the boys be released. I guess, being “defeated” once […], it could have happened again. We were taught a lesson ladies and gents! A lesson that said- don't you dare mess with us!
Here, it doesn't matter if you want to do any good, in fact, when you do you get punished for that. And thats what happened to Emin and Adnan. […]
Nevertheless, the blogger ends on a more optimistic note.
There are messages circling on Facebook saying to stay strong and be united. I couldn't agree more!
Some even updated their status lines in Facebook or sent out tweets quoting Hajizade.
Thoughts on the Road also commented on the court's decision.
The news via Twitter is that the appeal of Emin Milli & Adnan Hajizade has been rejected. Not many more details available at this point. On the Facebook pages this morning – expressions of disgust & frustration. The natural regret for hoping against hope that an undemocratic government would respect human rights. But the face of the Azerbaijani government is unmistakable. It is not democratic. It is not concerned with human rights. It is not concerned with fairness or justice.
In the face of such criticism, Thoughts on the Road also says that the government-controlled media is now trying to turn the circumstances of the case around. The blog says that it doesn't believe a word of it.
[…] Amazing. […] Emin and Adnan are depicted as ruffians, drinking and swearing in a restaurant. Babek Huseynov and his associates were just some peaceful guys who wanted some peace and quiet, so they approached Emin and Adnan, asking the guys to quiet down. […] The fact that Emin and Adnan were pro-democracy activists is not mentioned in the article. Of course.
Now, I have never met Emin or Adnan personally and I was not in that Lebanese restaurant that night. I have, however, eaten in that very restaurant. It was noisy when I ate there. I find it incredible that Emin and Adnan were being that much noisier than anyone else. […] If Adnan and Emin were so out of hand, would the management allow them to be so disruptive? Perhaps if Emin and Adnan had been well-connected government officials, this might be possible. But they are not and the scenario described here is completely implausible.
No, the story published here doesn't smell right at all. It isn't even logical. But logic has never been an essential ingredient for government propaganda.
Of course, the primary reason for not believing this account of the incident is because it is the official line of the government of Azerbaijan. If the official word is that something is blue, you can be nearly certain that it is any color but blue.
Meanwhile, supporters of the two imprisoned activists and bloggers continue to work locally and internationally to have them released. Many believe they face an uphill struggle, but the extensive use of social media, including a video petition, means that the case is still in the public eye.
For now at least, they appear committed and dedicated in that campaign to prevent the authorities from frustrating the emergence of a progressive youth movement in Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, however, the case might well have ramifications for bloggers and youth activists across the entire region. Indeed, some already believe that to be the case.
Global Voices Online's full coverage of the detention of Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli can found in the Azerbaijan section of this site.