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Democratic ideas forbidden; bloggers punished

An Azeri court sentenced two bloggers to prison on 11 November in a politically motivated decision aimed at censoring young activists critical of the government, report the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and other IFEX members. This conviction sends a clear message about the cost of democratic debate in Azerbaijan.

Emin Milli, 30, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison; and 26-year-old Adnan Hajizade was sentenced to two years. The young bloggers were convicted of hooliganism and inflicting bodily harm for allegedly attacking two men in July, report IFEX members.

In fact, Milli and Hajizade were attacked by strangers in a Baku restaurant on 8 July. The defendants went to the police to file a report about the assault, but instead of receiving medical attention, they were interrogated and charged.

The trial was a farce marked by fabricated charges, closed court hearings, a failure to detain and charge the real assailants, and inconsistencies in the presentation of facts, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Zadeh needs an operation to correct breathing problems resulting from the blows he received during the assault. Milli told RSF, "It is an honour for me to be penalised for my ideals." The bloggers intend to appeal.

Milli and Hajizade had posted satirical video sketches that criticised government policies and social issues prior to their arrest in July. They had also interviewed local residents and shared the responses online, using YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Their blogs raised concerns about education, corruption and poor infrastructure in Azerbaijan.

"There is a longstanding pattern of Azerbaijani officials filing trumped-up charges against journalists to punish them for critical or satirical comment," said Human Rights Watch.

IRFS calls the judge's verdict a tool to prevent other alternative voices from criticising the government via new media in the run-up to the 2009 municipal and 2010 parliamentary elections.

Severe limits are placed on independent reporting in Azeri television and print, which is why online media is an important space for discussion, says Freedom House. "Making examples of Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade sends a terrible message about the scope of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan and suggests that the authorities believe they can operate with impunity. The arrests emphasise the plight of ordinary Azerbaijani citizens, who endure daily injustices in a system that allows the government to operate with unchecked power."

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  • Bloggers sentenced in hooliganism case

    On 11 November 2009, bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade were found guilty of "hooliganism" and sentenced to two-and-a-half and two years of prison, respectively.

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