Today, in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, Emin Milli, one of the country’s best known bloggers, will have spent the 11th day of a 15-day prison sentence served by a court that took only minutes to convict him. He had been arrested for joining a peaceful protest held on January 26 to demonstrate against heavy-handed policing of another demonstration three days earlier. PEN International protests his arrest, as well as the persistent use of brief detentions, fines, and harassment against other journalists in an attempt to discourage them from critical reporting.

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Background Information

On January 23, thousands took to the streets in Isamayili, a town around 150km northwest of Baku, to demand the resignation of the district governor after riots the previous day against the apparent refusal of the authorities to close down a motel that was allegedly being used as a brothel. That night, the governor’s home, as well as the motel, which is said to be owned by the son of the minister for social welfare, were set alight by rioters. Scores were arrested. The following day, protestors gathered once again, demanding the release of those arrested the night before. They were met by bullets and water cannons, a move that led to widespread condemnation and in turn led to hundreds of people holding a rally at a park in Baku on Saturday, January 26, calling for justice—among them Emin Milli and several other journalists.

Here the police response was also harsh. Around 80 people were arrested, 30 of whom were brought to court, including Emin Milli, and investigative journalists Khadija Ismayilova and Malahat Nasibova. Three people were given administrative detention following hearings that lasted just a few minutes. Emin Milli received the heaviest sentence of 15 days. Two others, both human rights defenders, received 13-day sentences. The rest were freed after a couple of hours, although 18 of them were given fines of up to €2,500. Ismayilova, who has recently been the target of a smear campaign after she reported on government corruption, described her arrest to Amnesty International: I was among the protesters in Sahil park [in central Baku]… [by then it was] already silent, as most of the protesters were dispersed. The group of the police attacked just to take me. I was screaming, asking who they are, as they never introduced themselves and what they want.”

Emin Milli himself tweeted throughout the demonstration and onto the police bus: “Arrested. In a bus with great people! #Azerbaijan #ProtestBaku” @eminmilli

Creative use of digital media combined with humor is Milli’s trademark. His previous spell in prison, from July 2009 to November 2010, was because of a video broadcast on YouTube, put together by himself and fellow blogger Adnan Hajizade, that earned them the title "The Donkey Bloggers.” In the video, a donkey gives an interview to gathered journalists in which he answers questions about Azerbaijani government policy. PEN members worldwide were among those who protested their detention. Since his release Milli has returned to writing on Azerbaijani politics, in particular on restrictions of the Internet. In November last year he published an open letter to the Azerbaijani president at the opening of the Internet Governance Forum, the hosting of which, in Baku, was highly contentious. The letter was deeply critical of the Azerbaijani human rights record, not least the political imprisonment and repression of Internet users.

Hopefully, when Milli is released at the end of the week, he will be able to take up his invitation to attend #Internet2013, a conference being hosted from February 14 to 15 by the Representative for Freedom of the Media at the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Around 250 people will be there, including government representatives, the media, NGOs including PEN, and, perhaps most importantly, bloggers such as Milli.

Write A Letter

  • Protesting the arrest of Emin Milli, as well as the harassment and fines against other journalists and human rights defenders.

Send Your Letter To

Ilham Aliyev    
Office of the President of the Azerbaijan Republic
18 Istiqlaliyyat Street  
Fax: +994 12 492 0625
Email: [email protected]
Salutation: Dear President

Please check with PEN if sending appeals after February 10, 2013.