The Emin-Adnan trial and the future of Azerbaijani democracy

"Eşşekle (Esel Heinz) müsahibe" – Donkey satire in Azerbaijan (with English subtitles). Video: OL and AN youth movements / YouTube

ESI report: Generation Facebook in Baku – Adnan, Emin and the Future of Dissent in Azerbaijan (15 March 2011)

A video clip placed on YouTube on 11 November shows a group of young people in Baku, Azerbaijan, standing outside of the Sabayil district court shouting "Azadliq (freedom)" and "Ilham, leave our youth alone!" They are protesting the detainment of two popular activists. Then the camera turns to the entrance of the court where several uniformed police officers, escorting the two detainees, appear at the door. The men are put into a police car and driven away.

The two men are Emin Milli, 30, co-founder of the AN Network, and Adnan Hajizada, 26, co-founder of the OL! (To Be) Youth Movement. Just before the YouTube clip was filmed they had been been convicted on charges of 'hooliganism' and 'infliction of intentional physical violence' under article 127 and 221.2 of the Azerbaijani Criminal Code. Adnan was sentenced to two years in prison and Emin to two years and six months.

This was the culmination of a development that began a little over four months ago when Emin and Adnan were arrested and charged with hooliganism. The prosecution accused Emin and Adnan of starting a brawl in a restaurant in Baku and attacking two young men. Witnesses, independent observers and international organizations all agree that the accusations were fabricated. Emin and Adnan were being prosecuted for their active participation in youth movements that have criticized the current leadership of Azerbaijan.

"Freedom demanded ". Demonstration at the Azeri Embassy in Washington DC, 28 August 2009. Photo: Azeri Report
"Freedom demanded ". Demonstration at the Azeri Embassy in Washington DC, 28 August 2009. Photo: Azeri Report


International Reactions to the sentence of Emin and Adnan

Statement by Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe:

"I am concerned about very harsh sentences imposed by the court in Azerbaijan on Adnan Hadjizadeh and Emin Mili. Shortly before the July incident which resulted in their imprisonment for "hooliganism", the two young people have produced a satirical YouTube video, in which they have been implicitly criticising the government. This sequence of events will have an evitable chilling effect on the freedom of expression in Azerbaijan … What is at stake is not only the freedom of Adnan and Emin, but the freedom and wellbeing of all people in Azerbaijan."

Freedom of expression under pressure in Azerbaijan, 11 November 2009

Andres Herkel (Estonia, EPP/CD), co-rapporteur for monitoring Azerbaijan; Christoph Strasser (Germany, SOC), rapporteur on the follow- up to the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan by Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe:

"This case is yet another blow to freedom of expression in Azerbaijan and a serious setback on the country's path to democratization. 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 raise wider concerns about the independence of the police and the judiciary in the country.

Conviction of bloggers in Azerbaijan ‘a blow to freedom of exrpession', say PACE rapporteurs, 12 November 2009

Letter to Elmar Mammadyarov, Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, by Miklos Haraszati, OSCE media freedom representative:

"These new imprisonments cement Azerbaijan's image as the pre-eminent jailer of journalists in the OSCE region. Five journalists are currently in prison, several of them on clearly trumped-up charges following organized provocations and unfair trials. … The severity of the sentences for these young bloggers and other journalists who have criticized the authorities, including the President and the Interior Minister, is self-revealingly political."

OSCE media freedom representatives protests sentence handed down to Internet journalists in Azerbaijan, 11 November 2009

Swedish Presidency of the European Union:

"The Presidency of the European Union expresses its concern with respect to the verdict against the two bloggers, Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, which was pronounced on 11 November by the Sabail District court in Baku. The Presidency regrets that the trial proceedings did not reflect due process and believes that the court decision may further undermine the freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. The Presidency recalls that 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."

Presidency statement on Azerbaijan, 12 November 2009

Committee to Protect Journalists, New York:

"We call on Azerbaijani authorities to scrap these fictitious charges against Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade and release them. Police entrapment such as provoking a fight has become a tool for silencing critical journalists and writers in Azerbaijan."

Azerbaijani bloggers receive jail sentences, 11 November 2009

US State Department:

"The United States regrets today's court decision in Azerbaijan to imprison Azerbaijani youth leaders Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade. This court decision is a step backwards for Azerbaijan's progress towards democratic reform. The non-transparent investigation, closed court hearings, disproportionate legal charges, and failure to detain and charge the assailants have raised concerns about the independence of the police and the judiciary as well as about restrictions on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan."

Verdict in the court case of imprisoned youth activists Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada, 12 November 2009

Gunter Nooke, German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office:

"Now that Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade have been convicted, there are two new political prisoners in Azerbaijan. It seems that in all the talks conducted at bilateral level by the EU, the OSCE and the Council of Europe regarding the events surrounding the two young men, Baku only pretended that it would see to a transparent and fair trail."

Nooke protests against prison terms for two youth activists in Azerbaijan, 11 November 2009

Amnesty International:

"Amnesty International believes that the imprisonment of the two activists is part of a continued clampdown against dissenting voices in Azerbaijan, and that the two activists have been targeted for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, rather than being charged of an actual crime they may have committed."

Azerbaijan: Bloggers sentenced to prison terms, 12 November 2009

Reporters Without Borders:

"Reporters Without Borders condemns the jail sentences that a court passed yesterday on two bloggers on clearly trumped-up charges of "hooliganism" and "deliberate physical violence … This trial has been a sham from beginning to end and has concluded with outrageous and unjust sentences. How can a country that signed the European Convention on Human Rights dare to violate defence rights and free expression so blatantly?"

Prison sentences for two bloggers condemned as "outrageous and unjust", 12 November 2009

Human Rights Watch, New York:

"There is a longstanding pattern of Azerbaijani officials filing trumped-up charges against journalists to punish them for critical or satirical comment. 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."

Azerbaijan: Young bloggers jailed, 12 November 2009

Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director, Washington DC:

"Making examples of Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade sends a terrible message about the scope of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan and suggests that the authorities believe they can operate with impunity. The arrests emphasize the plight of ordinary Azerbaijani citizens, who endure daily injustices in a system that allows the government to operate with unchecked power."

Bloggers' jailing threatens new media's emergence in Azerbaijan, 12 November 2009