'Donkey bloggers' of Azerbaijan must be released, says Amnesty

Two Azerbaijan bloggers who were jailed shortly after posting a satirical video on Youtube, should be released immediately and unconditionally, said Amnesty International today, ahead of the men’s appeal hearing on Friday 8 January.

Emin Abdullayev, 30 and Adnan Hajizade, 26, were arrested on charges of “hooliganism” on 8 July 2009, after reporting to police that they had been assaulted in a restaurant in Baku by two well-built men. Their arrest came just over a week after Adnan Hajizade posted a video critical of the Azerbaijani government, in which he is seen interviewing a donkey and posing the question “What about human rights?”. The video 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 from Germany, in a deal that may have masked corruption or the theft of public funds. On 11 November, Adnan Hajizade was sentenced to two years, and Emin Abdullayev to two and a half years, after being convicted in an unfair trial.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“There is so much wrong with this case that one can only conclude that the charges against Emin and Adnan are fabricated. The trial ignored seemingly-vital evidence and was patently unfair.

“Amnesty strongly believes that these men are prisoners of conscience, locked up for the peaceful expression of their beliefs. They should be released immediately.”

On 8 July 2009, Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade were dining with friends in a restaurant in Baku. Witnesses interviewed by Amnesty said 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.

Following this incident Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade went to the local police station, to report the incident and file reports as victims. They took pictures of themselves outside this station which clearly show their injuries. On entering the station they were re-directed to another police station where, rather than recording their reports as victims and providing the requested medical treatment, the police reportedly interrogated Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade as suspects for five hours, without access to lawyers of their choosing. The two other men involved in the incident at the restaurant were set free after being brought in for a brief interrogation.

According to documents reviewed by Amnesty International, during their investigation the police and officials from the prosecuting authority failed to interview witnesses and to obtain video evidence from a security camera in front of the restaurant which may have recorded the incident. According to the defence, during the trial the court refused to consider photographs showing the injuries sustained by Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade. The court also refused to consider video evidence from mobile phones and a security camera without providing reasons as to why this evidence was not admitted.

Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade have used online networking tools, including Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, to disseminate information about the socio-political situation in Azerbaijan. Emin Abdullayev is also a co-founder of a youth group named Alumni Network while Adnan Hajizade is a coordinator of the youth movement known as OL!, which advocates non-violence and tolerance.

The Azerbaijani authorities are known to imprison journalists and activists for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. In 2007, following years of harassment by the authorities, 33-year-old newspaper editor Eynulla Fәtullayev was sentenced to eight and a half years imprisonment on politically motivated charges. Amnesty International believes that Eynulla's imprisonment is an attempt to silence his reporting, which was critical of the government, and considers him to be a prisoner of conscience. In June 2009, he was awarded the Special Award For Journalism Under Threat at the annual Amnesty Media Awards.

  • Send an appeal calling for the release of the two bloggers
  • Watch their video on YouTube /li>

View latest press releases