Bloggers’ Jailing Threatens New Media's Emergence in Azerbaijan | Freedom House

Bloggers’ Jailing Threatens New Media's Emergence in Azerbaijan

Washington, DC

The sentencing of two Azerbaijani bloggers to prison yesterday in a markedly non-transparent legal process is deeply disturbing, Freedom House said today, adding that the decision to silence the bloggers strikes a blow against the nascent success of new media in Azerbaijan.

Emin Milli, 30, who runs an online video blog, received a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence, and Adnan Hajizade, 26, a video blogger who works with an Azerbaijani youth movement, was given  a two-year sentence. The two were charged with “hooliganism” following an altercation that occurred in July. Many observers believe, however, that the charges stem from a online video satirizing Azerbaijan’s government that the bloggers posted shortly before their arrest.

“Making examples of Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade sends a terrible message about the scope of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan and suggests that the authorities believe they can operate with impunity,” said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House’s executive director. “The arrests emphasize the plight of ordinary Azerbaijani citizens, who endure daily injustices in a system that allows the government to operate with unchecked power.”

Azerbaijan’s government has been notorious for its brutal treatment of journalists in recent years. The country’s dismal press freedom record has garnered criticism from a wide range of nongovernmental and governmental observers, including the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. International broadcasters, such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the BBC, have faced growing obstacles to working in the country, and it appears the government may be setting the stage for even tighter control of media in advance of next year’s municipal and parliamentary elections.

Azerbaijan ranks Not Free in Freedom of the Press, Freedom House’s annual survey of global press freedom, which examines the legal, political, and economic dimensions of media freedom. The report reveals a notable downward decline in press freedom over the past five years as Azerbaijan’s authorities have increasingly imposed pressure on the media. In the meantime, a nascent but vibrant online community has emerged, suggesting a demand for greater media openness in a tightly closed information environment.

“Given the severe limits placed on independent reporting on television and in print, online discussions and blogging have emerged as important channels for discussion within the closed system in Azerbaijan. The singling out of these bloggers is therefore all the more troubling, as it suggests the government may be cracking down on these emerging new and important arteries for information,” said Christopher Walker, director of studies at Freedom House.

Further information on Azerbaijan can be found at:

Freedom of the Press 2009: Azerbaijan
Nations in Transit 2009: Azerbaijan
Freedom in the World 2009: Azerbaijan

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Azerbaijan since 1990.
 
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