March 25, 2010

Ilham Aliyev
Office of the President of the Azerbaijan Republic
19 Istiqlaliyyat Street
Baku AZ1066
Fax: +994 12 492 0625
Lt.-Gen. Ramil Usubov
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Husu Hajiyev Street 7, 370005 Baku
Fax:  + 994 12 492 45 90

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,400 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the recent decision of the Baku Court of Appeal to uphold the sentences handed down to Internet writers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade.

According to our information, on November 11, 2009, a judge with the Sabail District Court in Baku sentenced Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade to two years and two and a half years in prison respectively on charges of “hooliganism” and “inflicting minor bodily harm.” This verdict was upheld by the Baku Court of Appeal on March 10, 2010. Although charged with involvement in an alleged fight outside a bar, it is widely believed that these are fabricated charges, and that they are instead being targeted for their postings on the Internet regarding government corruption, education, and freedom of expression. One of their most popular pieces is a video that has been widely distributed on the Internet that satirizes the Azerbaijani government’s decision to pay very high prices to import donkeys, leading the pair to become known as the “Donkey Bloggers.” The Internet writers’ lawyers have announced that they will be filing a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Emin Milli, aged 30, is the co-founder of the online Alumni Network organization and the editor of the Internet television site ANOT. Adnan Hajizade, aged 26, is the co-founder of the youth movement OL (To Be). On July 8, 2009, Milli and Hajizade were arrested by the police in a restaurant in Baku following a scuffle outside between the two men and several others. Milli and Hajizade claim that the incident was deliberately set up to provoke the fight, and that while they were victims of an assault, they are the ones to be prosecuted for “hooliganism” while their attackers were set free.

PEN American Center believes that the continued imprisonment of Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade represents a persistent hostility towards independent and opposition media by the Azerbaijani authorities and is in breach of international standards of freedom of expression. We therefore urge for their immediate and unconditional release and call for authorities to take urgent measures to ensure the safety of journalists and freedom of expression in Azerbaijan in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Azerbaijan is a signatory.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                                     
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee                            

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write
 and International Programs

CC: Ambassador Yaşar Aliyev
Embassy of Azerbaijan to the United States
2741 34th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 337-5911

>> Back to Rapid Action