RAN 7/13 05 February 2013
Today, in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, Emin Milli, one of the country’s best known bloggers will have spent the 11th day of a 15-day prison sentence served against him by a court that took only minutes to convict him. He had been arrested for joining a peaceful protest held on 26 January to demonstrate against heavy handed policing of another demonstration three days earlier. PEN International protests his arrest, as well as the persistent use of brief detentions, fines and harassment against other journalists in an attempt to discourage them from critical reporting.
On 23 January, thousands had taken to the streets in Isamayili , a town around 150km north west of Baku, to demand the resignation of the district governor after riots the previous day against the apparent refusal of the authorities to close down a motel which was allegedly being used as a brothel. That night the governor’s home, as well as the motel, said to be owned by the son of the minister for social welfare, were set alight by rioters. Scores were arrested. The following day, protestors took gathered once again demanding the release of those arrested the night before. They were met by bullets and water cannon, a move that led to widespread condemnation and in turn led to hundreds of people holding a rally at a park in Baku on Saturday 26 January calling for justice, among them Emin Milli and several other journalists.
Here the police response was also harsh. Around 80 people were arrested, thirty of whom, among them Emin Milli, alongside the investigative journalists Khadija Ismayilova, and Malahat Nasibova were brought to court. Three people were given administrative detention following hearings that lasted just a few minutes. Emin Milli received the heaviest sentence of 15 days, two others, both human rights defenders, received 13 day sentences. The rest were freed after a couple of hours, although 18 of them were given fines of up to €2,500. Ismayilova, who has recently been the target of a smear campaign after she reported on government corruption, described her arrest to Amnesty International: I was among the protesters in Sahil park [in central Baku]… [by then it was] already silent, as most of the protesters were dispersed. The group of the police attacked just to take me. I was screaming, asking who they are, as they never introduced themselves and what they want.”
Emin Milli himself tweeted throughout the demonstration and onto the police bus tweeting in cheery fashion: “Arrested. In a bus with great people! #Azerbaijan #ProtestBaku” @eminmilli
Creative use of digital media combined with humour are Milli’s trademarks. His previous spell in prison, from July 2009 to November 2010, was because of a video broadcast on Youtube, put together by himself and fellow blogger Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade that earned them title the “Donkey Bloggers”. In the video, a donkey gives an interview to gathered journalists in which he answers questions about Azerbaijani government policy. PEN members worldwide were among those who protested their detention. Since his release Milli has returned to writing on Azerbaijani politics, in particular on restrictions of the internet. In November last year he published an open letter to the Azerbaijani President at the opening of the Internet Governance Forum, the hosting of which in Baku was highly contentious. The letter was deeply critical of the Azerbaijani human rights record, not least political imprisonment and repression of internet users.
So, hopefully, when Milli is released at the end of his sentence at the end of the week he will be able to take up his invitation to attend #Internet2013, a conference being hosted from 14-15 February by the Representative for Freedom of the Media at the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Around 250 people will be there, including government representatives, the media, NGOs including PEN, and, perhaps most importantly, bloggers such as Milli
Please write immediately in Azerbaijani or your own language protesting the arrest of Emin Milli, as well as the harassment and fines against other journalists and human rights defenders
Office of the President of the Azerbaijan Republic
18 Istiqlaliyyat Street,
Baku AZ1066, AZERBAIJAN
Fax: +994 12 492 0625
Salutation: Dear President
Please check with the PEN office is sending appeals after 10 February 2013