Thursday, July 16, 2009

No freedom of speech in Azerbaijan

Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli are Azeri bloggers. Last month they made a parody video [in Azeri, but with subtitles] mocking the Azeri government's policy of importing donkeys at exorbitant prices. And then things got weird:

Mr. Hajizada, 26, and his fellow activist Emin Milli, 30, were arrested last week in Baku, the capital, in an event their supporters say could signal the beginning of a crackdown on online media. Azeri authorities said the two physically attacked other men, though witnesses have challenged that account. They are awaiting trial on charges of hooliganism, which carries a sentence of one to five years in prison.

According to a motion filed by Mr. Hajizada’s lawyer, the two men were with friends at a restaurant last Wednesday, engrossed in political debate, when two strangers broke into their conversation and started a fight. Mr. Hajizada and Mr. Milli went to file a complaint about the assault, but instead an investigator opened a criminal case against them, the motion said.

This is apparently how the Azerbaijani government deals with its critics. Last year Qanimat Zahid, an opposition newspaper editor, was jailed for four years for "hooliganism" after a similar attack. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience, jailed for his journalistic work. In 2006, satirist and poet Sakit Zahidov was jailed after being framed on drug charges- again as a consequence of his journalism. He was pardoned earlier this year after serving almost three years in prison. Other journalists have been harassed, intimidated, assaulted, and even murdered [PDF] by a government desperate to suppress all criticism. And now the same seems to apply to bloggers.