In Azerbaijan, imprisoned blogger denied freedom

New York, July 27, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed by an Azerbaijani court’s decision to deny early release to jailed video blogger Adnan Hajizade, and it called on the appeals court to set him free. 

On Monday, a district court judge in Baku ruled against Hajizade, who has served half of his two-year term and was thus eligible for release under Azerbaijani law, according to news reports and the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS). Authorities arrested Hajizade and his colleague Emin Milli in July 2009 and later sentenced them to prison terms on fabricated charges of hooliganism.

CPJ has concluded that Hajizade and Milli were instead jailed in retaliation for a satirical video they produced and posted on YouTube a month earlier. The video spoofed the country’s importation of donkeys. Hajizade was sentenced to two years, and Milli was handed a term of two and a half years.

IRFS Director Emin Huseynov, who attended Monday’s hearing, told CPJ that prison and prosecution officials insisted that Hajizade should be remanded because he “had a controversial character,” did not repent, and frequently met with his lawyer. Huseynov told CPJ that Azerbaijani law does not include such criteria in determining eligibility for early release.

A lawyer for Hajizade told Judge Rufan Mursalov that the blogger had followed prison regulations and had not received any disciplinary sanctions from prison administrators during his incarceration. Hajizade plans to appeal Mursalov’s decision to the Court of Appeals, Huseynov said.

“Azerbaijani authorities should stop inventing reasons to deny justice to our imprisoned colleague,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “We urge the Court of Appeals to abide by the law and release Adnan Hajizade immediately.”

CPJ research shows Azerbaijani authorities have resisted early release for jailed journalists in the past. In November 2009, editor Genimet Zakhidov was denied early release because he had been disciplined for refusing to play in a prison volleyball game.