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Supreme Court rejects bloggers' appeal, prison sentences upheld

(IRFS/IFEX) - 19 August 2010 - A hearing was held today in the Supreme Court on the cassation appeal of bloggers Emin Milli (Abdullayev) and Adnan Hajizade.

Supreme Court chairman Ali Seyfaliyev chaired the hearing. The bloggers' defence lawyers, Isakhan Ashurov and Elton Guliyev, state plaintiff Mehbali Gurbanov, journalists, monitors and diplomatic corps representatives took part in the hearing.

The defence lawyers argued that the verdicts issued by the lower courts were unfounded; when the courts adopted their decisions, they did not consider evidence provided by the defendants, the bloggers' personality or their family situation. The lawyers asked the Supreme Court to annul the decisions of the lower courts and to issue criminal verdicts against the judges who issued those decisions. In contrast, state plaintiff Gurbanov said that the cassation complaint was unfounded and asked the Supreme Court to uphold the prior decisions.

The judge left for deliberation and said that the verdict would be issued in several hours. Upon returning from deliberation, the judge announced that the bloggers' appeal was not accepted and the verdict to keep them imprisoned would be upheld.

Ashurov told journalists that the bloggers' defence team would file an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights.

The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety Institute (IRFS) states that this decision proves once again that the arrest of the bloggers was politically motivated. The government continues to take revenge on the bloggers because of the critical video recording, "Interview with Esel Heinz". There is no evidence that they committed hooliganism, IRFS notes; however, there are photos depicting how they were beaten prior to their arrest.

Following their arrest in July 2009, the two young bloggers were first denied medical assistance and then a lawyer of their choice. Babak Huseynov and Vusal Mammadov, who were recognised as injured parties, did not join the court trials and the courts did not ensure their participation in the hearings. Moreover, Hajizade's appeal for early release was rejected.

IRFS urges the Azerbaijani government to immediately release Milli and Hajizade, along with the editor-in-chief of "Realniy Azerbaijan" and "Gundelik Azerbaijan" newspapers, Eynulla Fatullayev. IRFS calls on the international community to condemn Azerbaijan's stance towards freedom of speech and expression.


BACKGROUND:

On 8 July 2009, Milli and Hajizade were sitting at a table in "Lebonese" (Livan) restaurant along with several other young adults, when two athletic-looking men came up to them and attacked them. Milli and Hajizade sustained physical injuries.

Although the two bloggers appealed to the police as victims of an assault, the police detained Milli and Hajizade as suspects for 48 hours, whereas the assailants were allowed to go free.

On 10 July 2009, Sabail District Court judge Rauf Ahmadov issued a decision under article 221.2.1 (hooliganism) of the Criminal Code, sentencing Milli and Hajizade to a two-month pre-trial detention. On 20 July 2009, the Appellate Court upheld the decision of the lower court.

The investigation of the criminal case (special format lawsuit) ended, and a criminal case (special format lawsuit) under articles 221.2.1 (hooliganism) and 127 (inflicting intentional minor bodily harm) was then opened against the two bloggers. The case was sent to the Sabail District Court for consideration. On 11 November 2009, the court sentenced Milli to 2.5 years and Hajizade to 2 years in prison.

On 10 March 2010, the Baku Appellate Court upheld the verdict of the Sabail District Court. Local and international organisations recognise the young bloggers as prisoners of conscience.
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