Jail for joke about donkeys in Azerbaijan

Last Wednesday, two young bloggers were sentenced to a total of four and a half years’ imprisonment for hooliganism by a court in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

The indictment against Adnan Hajizada and Emin Millis has gained a lot of attention, also outside of the borders of Azerbaijan. The two bloggers have been detained for four months. The legal proceedings were initiated in September and have received severe criticism by human rights defenders that monitor the proceedings on site.

Adnan Hajizada and Emin Millis are active in the youth organisation OL! and they were arrested in July this year at a restaurant in Baku while discussing future activities with a group of young activists. Two men unknown to them confronted them and recommended them to finish their political discussions. They were then attacked by the same men, arrested and accused of hooliganism.

The political climate in Azerbaijan has become increasingly repressive during the last few years and the freedom of speech has been substantially circumscribed. Traditional media such as TV, radio and the press are brought under severe pressure and at present five journalists are held in prison. Adnan Hajizada and Emin Millis, however, have successfully used Facebook, YouTube, blogs and other social media to spread their message.

Only days before the arrest they had arranged a fake press conference using the donkey “Heinz” as the main character. Among other things, “Heinz” says that there are great opportunities for asses in Azerbaijan and that if you are a big enough ass you can go as far as you’d like. The regime in Baku, apparently, did not appreciate this message.

Ever since the arrest this summer, the judicial system of Azerbaijan has received severe criticism. The arrested individuals have not been allowed to see their relatives, and they have not been given enough access to their lawyers. The spokesperson of OSCE concerning freedom of press issues, Miklos Haraszti, calls the sentence a political conviction.

-    The new convictions strengthen the image of Azerbaijan as one of the countries imprisoning the largest number of journalists in the entire OSCE region. As of today, five journalists are held behind bars, several of them detained on fictitious charges based on organised provocations and biased trials.

Civil Rights Defenders has previously levelled criticism against the regime in Baku concerning its lack of respect for human rights. In a letter addressed to the President, Ilham Aliyev, in the end of July, we drew attention to a bill whose aim it is to obstruct the work of human rights defenders and civil society.

Categories: News.
Tags: Freedom of expression and South Caucasus.