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"Donkey bloggers" released

An undated still image of the controversial video by the
An undated still image of the controversial video by the "donkey bloggers"

Azerbaijani OL (To Be) Youth Movement

The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) and other IFEX members welcomed Azerbaijan's decision last week to release two opposition bloggers whose jailing sparked an international outcry. But more activists and journalists are still in prison and they should be released immediately too, say the IFEX members.

Emin Milli was released early on 19 November, a day after fellow blogger Adnan Hajizade, was similarly set free by the Baku Appeal Court.

The two were charged with hooliganism in November 2009: Hajizade was sentenced to two years in prison and Milli got two-and-a-half years.

The charges related to a fight in a restaurant that happened soon after the bloggers posted a satirical video of a donkey giving a press conference - poking fun at Azerbaijan's recent import of donkeys from abroad at excessively high prices.

The "donkey bloggers" claim the charges were politically-motivated attempts to silence their criticism of the authorities, and that they were being used to send a warning to other opposition activists. Their case has drawn criticism from around the world, including by U.S. President Barack Obama who addressed it with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in September.

Meanwhile, the popular editor Eynulla Fatullayev is still in jail - despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in April that demanded his release, report IRFS, the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Earlier this month Azerbaijan's Supreme Court dropped the criminal charges against Fatullayev but refused to free him immediately - explaining he must remain in custody while he appeals a separate drug conviction.

Fatullayev was serving an eight-and-a-half-year sentence after writing an article saying Azerbaijan could support a U.S. attack on neighbouring Iran. He was found guilty of making a terrorist threat, inciting ethnic conflict and tax evasion. In July he was also sentenced to 30 months in prison on separate drug possession charges that he maintains are fabricated.

"No one is fooled by these stalling tactics. The Baku Appeals Court's latest ruling to keep our colleague in jail pending the outcome of the drug case was blatantly tailored to defy the European Court's order," said CPJ.

ARTICLE 19 is also calling for the release of youth activist Ruslan Bashirli.

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    The news of Milli's release came a day after fellow blogger Adnan Hajizade was granted parole.

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    Hajizade, who had seven months and 21 days remaining in his sentence, was granted a conditional release by Judge Sahibkhan Mirzayev.

  • Editor Eynulla Fatullayev remains jailed despite ECHR call for his release

    Judge Ramiz Rzayev sentenced Eynulla Fatullayev to more than two years in prison on tax evasion charges.

  • Government defies international duty to uphold free expression ahead of elections; take action for jailed editor

    Azerbaijani editor Eynulla Fatullayev has been in prison since April 2007 on trumped up charges - despite a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgment this year that demanded his release, reports the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS). His case exposes the Azerbaijani government's failure to comply with its international commitments to free expression - and threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the 7 November elections, say IFEX members, six of whom have recently returned from a joint free expression mission to the country.

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