The U.S. Helsinki Commission condemned the government of Azerbaijan after youth activists and bloggers Emin Milli (Abdullayev) and Adnan Hajizade were denied their appeal, and assessed this as the continuation of harassment against independent journalism and civil society in Azerbaijan.
“This is the latest in a long series of setbacks for independent journalism and civil society in Azerbaijan,” said Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission). “It is clear why the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media labeled Azerbaijan the pre-eminent jailer of journalists in the OSCE region.”
“This case illustrates the lack of independence of Azerbaijan's judicial system,” said Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings who pointed out that the judge excluded clearly relevant physical evidence and witness testimony provided by the defense. However, Hastings noted that the bloggers intend to appeal to the Supreme Court, which would give Azerbaijan one more chance to get this case right.”
The Helsinki Commission sent a letter on Dec. 11 to President Ilham Aliyev, expressing deep concern about the convictions and calling for a fair appeal process. The government never responded to the letter.
“It is dismaying to see that Azerbaijan's leadership has not taken to heart OSCE criticism about the lack of press freedom in their country,” said Robert Aderholt. “The arrest and conviction of these two youth activists seem to indicate a determination to stifle dissent before the parliamentary election later this year."
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. The investigation of the criminal case was concluded and a criminal case under articles 221.2.1 (hooliganism) and 127 (inflicting intentional minor bodily harm) was opened against E.Millli and A.Hajizade and the case had been sent to court to be considered. According to the verdict of Sabail district Court, Emin Milli was sentenced to 2,5 years imprisonment and Adnan Hajizade to 2 years imprisonment on 11 November. On 10 March, the Baku Appellate Court adopted a decision to uphold the verdict of the Sabail District Court.