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Azerbaijani donkey bloggers face seven years' jail

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A pair of Azerbaijani bloggers, who posted a satirical YouTube vid featuring a donkey, face up to seven years' jail on what human rights organisations are calling trumped-up charges.

Adnan Hajizade, 26, and Emin Milli, 29, are described by Amnesty International as "well-known youth activists who have used online networking tools, including Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, to disseminate information about the socio-political situation in Azerbaijan".

They were were arrested back in in July shortly after releasing this mild pop at their government:

According to news reports, the pair finally fell foul of the powers that be when they were were cuffed following a scuffle in a Baku restaurant. Amnesty International explains that as they were "discussing online activism, two well-built men were said to have approached their group, and demanded that they stop talking about politics".

The two bloggers were both injured in the ensuing violence, and Amnesty elaborates: "Following the events, Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade went to the police to lodge a complaint. However, rather than accepting their complaint about their assault, the police detained first Adnan Hajizade and then Emin Milli, as the latter reportedly refused to leave the police station without his fellow activist."

Hajizade and Milli were jailed and initially charged with “hooliganism carried out by a group of people”, which carries a maximum sentence of five years' jail. Last week, they were also charged with “intentional physical violence”, which carries a two-year tariff.

Their lawyer, Isakhan Ashurov, said: “This incident is definitely politically motivated. My clients did not beat anybody. Quite the opposite.”

Azerbaijani human rights organisations agree, and have "expressed concern that the charges brought have been fabricated to punish the two youths for their online activism critical of the government".

International pressure is building for the pair's release. Amnesty International noted that the police "did not carry out a thorough and impartial investigation of the events; among other things they failed to interview potential witnesses".

Reporters without Borders described the affair as "typical of arbitrary judicial decisions taken with government opponents”, while a UN human rights committee statement condemned “extensive limitations to the right to freedom of expression in Azerbaijan”.

These calls are backed by various YouTube videos demanding justice for the donkey satirists, supported by the now-traditional Facebook group. ®

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