Emin Milli arriving at court earlier today in handcuffs, Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan © RFE/RL
Despite significant international outcry from leading human rights and freedom of expression advocates, detained video bloggers Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli today went on trial in Baku. Now facing an additional charge of assault, the two youth activists face up to 5 years in prison if convicted.
Hajizade and Milli were attacked in downtown Baku at the beginning of July, but when the two activists reported the incident to the police they were instead arrested and charged with attacking their assailants.
The arrests came soon after Hajizade's OL! youth movement and Milli's AN Network posted a video mocking the authorities for importing donkeys and introducing legislation intended to restrict the activities of civil society in the oil-rich country.
But, if the Azerbaijani government hoped that the action against the two activists would silence their voices, it instead appears to have achieved the opposite.
No strangers to the use of new media, Hajizade and Milli's supporters used Twitter to send out updates, albeit from outside the courtroom. Previous pre-trial sessions had been held behind closed doors.
Adnan Hajizade leaving court earlier today in handcuffs, Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan © RFE/RL
Writing on Facebook, Hajizade's girlfriend reacted to today's trial by saying it felt as though her “heart will stop.” Nevertheless, despite concerns over Hajizade and Milli's fate, both seemed confident and in good spirits as they were escorted from the courtroom to the sound of defiant chants from those waiting outside.
Another supporter of the two detained activists summarized the trial, adjourned until 16 September, on the popular social networking site.
I was just re-listening to the first half of the info the reporter from Azadliq radiosu (Radio Freedom) was giving during the proceedings. As far as I understood: He said that first there was a plea to have a closed hearing on the grounds that Adnan and Emin are politically involved and therefore the trial is a matter of social security. Emin then interjected that he is NOT involved in politics; said that the “victims'” lawyer was misinforming the judge – he is not a member of any political party or organization. He said that such accusations are only given in authoritarian regimes. The plea was rejected. Also the defense asked that Adnan and Emin's pre-trial detention be suspended on the condition that they do not leave Baku (also rejected).
The AN Network later posted a series of video reports on YouTube. Despite concerns, friends of the two men appear to be in good spirits, perhaps buoyed by support from individuals and organizations worldwide.
Elsewhere, following a similar action in Washington D.C., another protest was held in their support outside the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in London.