Protect the donkey-impersonator

For bloggers Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli the law is an ass. Well, actually it’s one of them that’s the ass. Or at least it was, in a video that has now part of the reason they are now both in an Azerbaijani prison. Puzzled? I don’t blame you. Actually BBC News online’s report that the men’s   sentences were linked to a scuffle in a café whereas they maintain they were convicted because of their online criticism of the government only tells part of the story. And it was a bit more than a scuffle. Emin Abdullayev, 30 and Adnan Hajizade, 26, have used online networking tools, including Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, to disseminate information about the socio-political situation in Azerbaijan and have founded and coordinated youth groups.  Back in July they were dining with five friends in a restaurant. Witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International told us that, as the group was discussing politics and youth activism, two well-built men approached them, swore at them and angrily asked what they were talking about. When Emin Abdullayev replied that the conversation did not concern the two men, one of them head-butted him and he fell to the floor. Reportedly Adnan Hajizade moved to protect Emin Abdullayev and was struck and knocked to the ground by the same man. According to witnesses the other man used the table to obstruct the rest of the activists as they attempted to reach their two friends, who were kicked and beaten by the initial aggressor as they lay on the floor. The incident lasted about two minutes and was stopped by restaurant staff They went to the police but were arrested themselves. According to the defence, during the trial the court refused, without explanation, to consider photographs showing the men’s injuries or to consider video evidence from mobile phones and a security camera.   Some days prior to the incident in the restaurant Adnan Hajizade had placed a satirical video on the Internet which protested at the government’s purchase of donkeys from Germany using public funds and posing the question “What about human rights?” The was posted in the wake of a news story about how the Azerbaijani government had allegedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars importing a dozen donkeys in a deal that may have masked corruption or the theft of public funds.  How satirical? It involved someone speaking to camera dressed (not entirely convincingly) as a donkey.  Amnesty International considers the two men prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate release. Apparently they intend to appeal. Earlier this year we presented (in absentia) the Amnesty International Special Award for Journalism Under Threat to Eynulla Fatullayez, who was arrested in April after years of harassment and is now serving an eight and a half year sentence. Take action on his behalf here. We took the opportunity to highlight the fact that harassment of independent and opposition journalists – and physical assault and intimidation too – are routine in Azerbaijan, where several journalists were imprisoned last year. The trials of journalists do not meet international standards.  All this effectively silences reporting critical of the government, though remarkably, just days after our Media Awards, journalists attending a conference attended by a representative of the president's office asked lots of questions about Eynulla Fatullayez’s award. Ironically given Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade’s role as bloggers, that conference was about Internet regulation. Foreign Secretary David Miliband has been indulging in some blogging today, though not, sadly, dressed as a donkey. After that desparate attempt at a link to something entirely unrelated the least you can do is check out his Comment is Free article supporting an International Arms Trade Treaty.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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