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Arrest of Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade on 8 July 2009. Video: ProjectIRFS / Youtube

Media reports and blogs

The story of Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada generated a great deal of media interest. Internationally renowned media outlets from The New York Times to BBC and CNN reported.

The Collegiate, the student newspaper of Richmond University, which Adnan had attended until 2005, published an article soon after receiving news of Adnan's arrest. The article cites one of Adnan's professors, Tanja Softic, who said of Adnan,

"I remember thinking, 'Here is the future Prime Minister of Azerbaijan,' and it certainly looks like he has begun a time-honored trajectory of a young idealist in politically corrupt system. Azerbaijan needs people like Adnan."

The story of the "donkey bloggers" also sparked creative responses, which made their way into European news outlets. For example, in November 2010, Dutch TV ran a news story on a group of young Azerbaijanis who gathered next to the Azerbaijani embassy in The Hague in protest against Emin and Adnan's imprisonment dressed in donkey costumes. They wore tags with the names of key Azerbaijani government officials.

Expat Azerbaijanis protest in front of the Azerbaijani Embassy in The Hague.
Photo: Ataxan Abilov, Facebook, November 2010

Protester posing as Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.
Photo: Ataxan Abilov, Facebook, November 2010

There is also an interview with Emin and Adnan soon after their release from prison in November 2010 available from BBC. Here the two describe their thoughts about their arrest and imprisonment and talk about the history of the creation of the "Donkey Video". "Freed Azerbaijani Blogger Says Year Without Internet Was 'Torture'"done immediately after Emin Milli's release.

Interview with Adnan Hajizade on 25 November 2010, one week after his release from prison,
about his case and the state of online free speech in Azerbaijan. Video: Reporters Without Borders / Youtube

Some of the most detailed English-language reporting on the case was provided by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Azerbaijani state-controlled media largely neglected the case, presenting it as an instance of mere hooliganism. Most of the news about the court proceedings, which were closed to the general public, were relayed through blog posts and tweets from Emin and Adnan's friends and supporters. Some notable blogs that followed the developments after Emin and Adnan's arrest include Ali Novruzov's In Mutatione Fortitudo and Arzu Geybullayeva's Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines.

An interesting attempt to put Emin and Adnan's case into a broader framework of post-Soviet dissent is an article by Amanda Rivkin, an independent reporter, under the title "Shown Trial: Emin Milli and the Future of Azerbaijan" (26 November 2010).


International Reactions (NGOs and governments)

Soon after Emin and Adnan's arrest, Erkin Gadirli, a legal expert and co-ordinator of the Youth Right Defence Committee launched a public campaign. The goal was to collect signatures in support of the young men and to demand from the Azerbaijani government to respect Emin's and Adnan's rights.[1]

Following Emin and Adnan's sentencing on 11 November 2009, the number of statements and condemnations exploded: from the US Department of State, the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland and the OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media Miklós Haraszti.

In November 2009, Amnesty International officially classified the jailed activists as "prisoners of conscience".

Criticism continued in 2010: a PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) Declaration of 31 May 2010 on the functioning of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan condemns "the arrests, intimidation and harassment of journalists" and specifically mentions report on Azerbaijan authored by Thomas Hammerberg, the Human Rights Commissioner, noted:

"The Commissioner noted that in certain instances resort has been made to various provisions in the Criminal Code - such as incitement to racial, national and religious hatred, hooliganism, tax evasion, drug possession and terrorism – to prosecute journalists. As a result, certain journalists or other persons who have expressed critical views have been targeted. This appeared to be the case in the trial against the two youth "(p. 2)

The Commissioner called for the "immediate release" of the two youth activists.

During a bilateral meeting with President Aliyev on 24 September, in the margins of the UN General Assembly, US President Barack Obama called on Aliyev to release the imprisoned bloggers.


The Internet campaign

The young activists had an online following, and after their arrest, a campaign for their release was set up by other activists.

Media freedom NGO Reporters without Borders hosted a special blog titled "Support Adnan and Emin."

Another website set up in support of Emin and Adnan is

There were also numerous websites where it was possible to submit a petition to the Azerbaijani government to free Emin and Adnan. One, launched by OL activist Vugar Salamli, was called Video Petition: young people from around world posted their own video messages calling for Adnan and Emin's release.


The response of Azerbaijan's government

Faced with strong international criticism, the Azerbaijani government protested what it called a "politicisation" of the case. In the official comments to the Council of Europe's June 2010 report (see pp. 22ff), the Azerbaijani Government denied that the trial was unfair, insisting that the court proceedings were conducted in:

"an objective and impartial manner and through a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court, as prescribed in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)."

The government's report also accused Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade of "attempt[ing] to circumvent justice and distract the public opinion from the crimes they had committed" and of trying to link the incident "to their public activities and political views." (pp. 24-25).

For an example of the Azerbaijani government's official rhetoric concerning Emin and Adnan's case watch a YouTube video of Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov's Q&A session at Columbia University in New York in September 2009. When a woman who identified herself as working for the Human Rights Watch asked (at 3:15) how the Azerbaijani government can ensure a fair trial for the young men, Mammadyarov responded that the right to a fair trial is ingrained in the Azerbaijani Constitution and that suggestions of possible violations of this right constitute "a prejudgment." Later he said that Azerbaijan, as a member of such international organisations as the OSCE; the Council of Europe and the UN, was already fulfilling all its democratic commitments.

March 2011

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