News

November 12, 2009 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Prison sentences for two bloggers condemned as “outrageous and unjust”


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.” Adnan Hadji Zadeh, 26, received a two-year sentence, while Emin Milli, 30, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Arrested after being assaulted by three men in a Baku restaurant on 8 July, they were accused of attacking their assailants. Yesterday’s sentencing by judge Araz Huseynov ended a trial of more than two months during which Zadeh and Milli were kept in detention without interruption. They plan to appeal. “This trial has been a sham from beginning to end and has concluded with outrageous and unjust sentences,” Reporters Without Borders said. “How can a country that signed the European Convention on Human Rights dare to violate defence rights and free expression so blatantly? The trial was orchestrated solely to censor and punish two politically committed bloggers who dared to criticise the authorities.” The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the trial had inflicted further harm on Azerbaijan’s image and that the severity of the sentences seemed to be politically motivated. US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly described the trial and its outcome as a “step backwards” for democracy in Azerbaijan. “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,” he added. The trial was marred by violations of the right of defence and inconsistencies in the presentation of facts, while repeated short hearings indicated that the authorities did not know how to resolve the legal mess resulting from ineptly-fabricated charges. During the trial, the judge rejected all the requests by the bloggers for conditional release or for family visits in prison and finally convicted them despite the absence of any real evidence. The testimony given by defendants, witnesses and supposed victims differed on all points. During the fourth hearing on 25 September, one of the key prosecution witnesses was unable to describe the police officers and people present at the scene of the incident. He even said that he had just “written what the police had told him to write” in his statement. At the same time, the police claimed they escorted the two bloggers to a police station, although in fact the bloggers went to the police station of their own accord in order to escape their assailants and to file a report against them. The prosecution witnesses were also unable to identify the alleged assailants (the bloggers) while the alleged victims kept on failing to turn up for the hearings. The defence witnesses meanwhile clearly identified the alleged victims as the ones who had assaulted the bloggers. This was confirmed by the owner of the “Lebanez” restaurant where the incident took place. The medical reports presented by forensic experts were vague and inadequate. It should be noted that all three of the alleged victims were athletic-looking individuals. When the verdict was announced yesterday, supporters of the bloggers outside the court shouted “Freedom!” Zadeh, who promotes non-violence through his organisation Future (OL), needs an operation to correct breathing problems resulting from the blows he received during the attack in the restaurant. Milli, co-founder of the web TV station AN Network, said: “It is an honour for me to be penalized for my ideals.” See the satirical video that the two bloggers posted online before they were attacked and then arrested: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/russia-and-its-neighbors/090720/web-crackdowns-spread?page=0,1 The Azerbaijani authorities are clearly trying to prevent the Internet from becoming a powerful opposition tool in the run-up to next year’s parliamentary elections. Blogs and social-networking websites have become very popular with young Azerbaijanis. Three journalists are currently detained for political reasons in Azerbaijan, which was ranked 146th out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. See other articles about them : http://www.rsf.org/Court-confirms-pre-trial-detention.html