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Azerbaijani donkey bloggers jailed

US rattles small sabre over 'further erosion' of free speech

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The US has said it "regrets" the jailing of Azerbaijani bloggers Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, on what human rights organisations consider a trumped-up charge of "hooliganism".

The pair 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".

Hajizade, 26, and Milli, 30, have been sentenced to two and two-and-a-half years, respectively, following a scuffle in a Baku restaurant in July. They were approached by two "well-built men" who demanded they stop discussing politics. A fight ensued, and when Hajizade and Milli attempted to report the assault, they were themselves arrested and jailed.

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

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

Indeed, the probable provocation for the set-up was this video, taking a mild pop at Azerbaijan's government:

The US yesterday rattled a small sabre in Azerbaijan's direction, with State Department spokesman Ian Kelly declaring: "The United States regrets today's court decision in Azerbaijan to imprison Azerbaijani youth leaders Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade. This court decision is a step backwards for Azerbaijan's progress towards democratic reform."

Kelly said the convictions have "raised concerns about the independence of the police and the judiciary, as well as about restrictions on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan", and expressed the hope the affair didn't indicate a "further erosion" of the right of free speech.

He concluded by saying that the US "remains committed" to "working with Baku on democratic reforms", as AFP puts it. ®

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