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Youth activist arrested after posting critical comments online

(IRFS/IFEX) - The Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS) is concerned about the arrest of youth activist Jabbar Savalanli, a member of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party's Youth Committee. According to official reports, Savalanli was arrested and taken to the Sumgayit City Police Station on February 5, 2011. At the police station, 0.74 grams of marajuana were found when he was searched. On February 7, the Sumgayit District Court sentenced Savalanli to two months of pre-trial detention.

IRFS notes that several of Savalanli's procedural rights were violated. He was not provided with a lawyer and the search was conducted in the absence of any legal representation. Moreover, the lawyers hired for Savalanli were not allowed to meet with him until February 7.

During a hearing in his case, a plainclothes police officer told Savalanli's mother that her son was a drug addict and that he had been arrested on those grounds. This represents a violation of the assumption of innocence.

IRFS believes that Savalanli's arrest is politically motivated - the consequence of his political beliefs and his criticism of the ruling regime on social networking sites like Facebook. A content analysis of Savalanli's Facebook profile shows that he has posted material criticizing high ranking officials, including President Ilham Aliyev, calling for their resignation.

IRFS would like to point out that these kinds of charges are not without precedent. Similar fabricated charges have been brought against other dissidents in the past: "Azadlig" reporter and satirical journalist Mirza Sakit and "Gundelik Azerbaijan" and "Realniy Azerbaidjan" editor Eynulla Fatullayev were both hit with drug possession charges, while youth bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizadeh were convicted of "hooliganism".

IRFS calls on the Azerbaijani authorities to put an end to the persecution of critical citizens. IRFS also calls on the international community to raise awareness of this issue and demand that the Azerbaijani government halt its stranglehold on freedom of expression.

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