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Baku police detained Milli and Hajizade on July 8, after the bloggers reported that they had been physically attacked at a local restaurant. Milli and Hajizade were debating politics with friends when two unknown men interrupted their conversation and started a brawl, they said. When the bloggers went to report the incident, they were arrested for “hooliganism”—a criminal charge that carries up to five years in jail. The two have been in custody since they were initially detained. A second charge, “inflicting minor bodily harm,” was added on Monday. If convicted on both charges, the bloggers face up to seven years in prison. A trial is scheduled to start on September 4 at the Sabail District Court in Baku.
“These charges against Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade are politicized—we call on Azerbaijani authorities to release them immediately,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Staging provocations has become a favored method to silence independent voices in Azerbaijan.”
Both domestic and international rights groups have condemned the arrest of Milli and Hajizade as staged by authorities in retaliation for their blogs’ critical content. In a number of entries, Milli and Hajizade interviewed local residents and filmed street gatherings in protest of official policies. According to multiple sources, a satirical video the bloggers produced and posted on YouTube in late June was used as a pretext to incarcerate them. The video criticized Azerbaijan’s alleged import of donkeys from abroad at excessively high prices. The video sketch depicts a pseudo press conference, at which Hajizade, wearing a donkey suit, talks to a group of Azerbaijani “journalists”; Milli reportedly filmed.
Two days after Milli and Hajizade went to report the Baku restaurant incident, the Sabail District Court sentenced them to a two-month preliminary detention in a closed hearing, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
In a similar scenario, Genimet Zakhidov, the prominent editor of the pro-opposition daily Azadlyg (Freedom), was detained in November 2007 and sentenced to four years in prison in March 2008 for “hooliganism and causing minor bodily harm.” Police arrested Zakhidov after a man and woman staged a brawl on the street near his Baku office.