“The criminal convictions of two young activist bloggers are a step backward for free expression in Azerbaijan,” said Human Rights Watch.
"There is a longstanding pattern of Azerbaijani officials filing trumped-up charges against journalists to punish them for critical or satirical comment," said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The case against Milli and Hajizade falls squarely in that pattern.The imprisonment of Milli and Adnan sends a chilling message to bloggers and any sharp government critic in Azerbaijan. It reflects growing government hostility towards the freedom of expression."
“This trial has been a sham from beginning to end and has concluded with outrageous and unjust sentences,” it is said in the statement of the Reporters Without Borders. “How can a country that signed the European Convention on Human Rights dare to violate defense rights and free expression so blatantly? The trial was orchestrated solely to censor and punish two politically committed bloggers who dared to criticize the authorities. The Azerbaijani authorities are clearly trying to prevent the Internet from becoming a powerful opposition tool in the run-up to next year’s parliamentary elections. Blogs and social-networking websites have become very popular with young Azerbaijanis.”
Three journalists are currently detained for political reasons in Azerbaijan, which was ranked 146th out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, according to the statement of the organization.
Andres Herkel, co-rapporteur for the monitoring of Azerbaijan, and Christoph Strässer, rapporteur on the political prisoners in Azerbaijan by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), expressed their dismay at the conviction of two satirical bloggers.
“The disproportionate legal charges, the lack of transparency in the investigation process, the use of closed court hearings, and the failure to charge the other persons involved in the altercation raises wider concerns about the independence of the police and the judiciary in the country,” said Herkel and Strässer.
Mr Herkel and Mr Strässer called for an appeal procedure open to international observation in line with European standards for a fair trial. The rapporteurs also underlined their intention to pay great attention to the arrest and conviction of opposition activists and representatives of civil society while preparing their respective reports on Azerbaijan.
The Presidency of the European Union expressed its concern with respect to the verdict against the two bloggers stating that the trial proceedings did not reflect due process and believes that the court decision may further undermine freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.
“Azerbaijan has committed itself to the principles of democracy, good governance and the respect for the rule of law and human rights, when joining the OSCE and the Council of Europe, as well as in the context of its relationship with the European Union,” recalled the Presidency.
On 8 July, at approximately 8:00 p.m., Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade were sitting at a table in “Lebonese” (Livan) restaurant along with several other young adults, when two people that looked like sportsmen came up to them, and attacked them causing physical injuries. Although they appealed to police as victims, police detained Adnan and Emin as suspected persons for 48 hours and freed the attackers. On 10 July, the Sabail District Court issued a decision under article 221.2.1 (hooliganism) of the Criminal Code to sentence Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade to two months pre-trial detention. On July 20 the Appellate Court upheld the decision of the lower court. 11 November, the investigation opened criminal case under article 221.2.1(hooliganism) and 127 (inflicting intentional minor bodily harm) against young bloggers Emin Abdullayev (Millli) and Adnan Hajizade a verdict was issued. According to the verdict, Emin Milli was sentenced to 2,5 years imprisonment and Adnan Hajizade to 2 years imprisonment.