An Ironic Honor: Internet Governance Forum in Azerbaijan

Policemen Man-handle Activist in Azerbaijan

Three policemen man-handle a political activist during a protest in Baku, Azerbaijan, March 12, 2011. ©IRFS

A United Nations initiative called Internet Governance Forum is about to have its annual forum in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, to discuss, among other issues, freedom of speech.

Yet in Azerbaijan, people who exercise this fundamental right to criticize President Ilham Aliyev, his family or government risk being threatened, attacked or imprisoned – whether they do so on- or off-line.

“They don’t jail all the bloggers. They pick up two or three who go – in their view – too far,” explains Emin Mill, an Azerbaijani digital dissenter who served time in prison for “hooliganism.” SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

The Right to a Facebook Status

Facebook status updates and tweets start revolutions and result in arrests. The updates below from my Facebook friends draw a picture of the ongoing and growing protests in the Middle East and North Africa.

From Iran:

Greens are organizing another protest in Iran: February 20th! power to the people of Iran!

From Egypt:

will demonstrate alone in Tahrir. I want my birthday every year! #Feb29

From Bahrain:

The world has turned upside down. Just got a text message from a friend in Gaza asking me if I’m safe.

About Iraq:

My Kurdish friends need to speak up: Kurds protest in Sulaimaniyah [Iraq], ten killed, nine wounded


Follow Libya too…

Updating one’s Facebook status with political information is a human right. Practice yours by sharing Amnesty International’s action to support human rights throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

WikiLeaks Cable: Azerbaijan President Asked to Release Activists… Sort of

Last week’s release of Adnan and Emin – two imprisoned youth activists in Azerbaijan – was discussed (at least once) with the Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev earlier this year. In a February 2010 exchange in a confidential cable released by WikiLeaks, Aliyev seems to tentatively agree to releasing the activists:

U/S Burns said that one of the ways Azerbaijan could
show leadership as a tolerant and secular country was in
advancing democracy and human rights. He specifically asked
that, following the appeal process of the two youth
activists, the President find a way on humanitarian grounds
to release the two men. Aliyev made no firm commitment, but
responded, “I think this can be done. I had no intention to
hurt anyone.”
When U/S Burns expressed the hope that the
government could quietly take this step, the President said,

What’s eye-opening about the exchange is President Aliyev’s admission of his personal knowledge – if not responsibility – in the activists’ arrest and subsequent conviction of “hooliganism.”

It’s also interesting – if not unfortunate – how the US asks Azerbaijan to “quietly” release the youth activists on “humanitarian grounds.”

While we are all glad that Adnan and Emin are free, there is more justice to be done: their conviction must be overturned – not quietly or on humanitarian grounds but for human rights and democracy.

Azerbaijan: Both 'Donkey Bloggers' Are Free!

It is rare to have back-to-back good news on human rights from Azerbaijan. This week is an exception, though. Remember how the Amnesty International USA intern, born in Azerbaijan, shared her happy tears with us about her friend Adnan Hajizade’s release yesterday? Well, there is more cause for celebration – Adnan’s colleague and fellow digital dissenter and prisoner of conscience Emin Abdullayev Milli is also a free man.

‘Donkey bloggers’ Adnan and Emin reunited after release (via Global Voices Online)

While Adnan’s and Emin’s release is great news, Azerbaijan has a long way to come clean with the oppression of dissenters, including that of the ‘Donkey bloggers.’ The young bloggers’ fabricated conviction of hooliganism (which was actually for a YouTube video in donkey-suit mocking corruption in Azerbaijan), for one, must be overturned. And, most urgently, Azerbaijan must release imprisoned journalist and human rights defender (I would also add, peace activist) Eynulla Fatullayev.

Azerbaijan: Blogger and Prisoner of Conscience Released!

Adnan Hajizade, a blogger imprisoned in Azerbaijan, is now a free man! Shabi, an Amnesty International USA intern who was born in Azerbaijan, sent out the following email this morning:

I am from Azerbaijan and the main reason behind my choosing to do internship at Amnesty was that my two friends – Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli had been prisoned last year because they had criticized the government and Amnesty was one of the few organizations, which did research on them and called them ‘prisoners of conscience.’ So, I have wonderful news!!! Adnan Hajizada was released from prison today!

So I thought I should share these great news with you and it’s worth sharing it with all the activists, who have been taking actions in this case. I am just happy to tears and I pray for each prisoner of conscience to be freed just like this.

Thank you so much for all your work!!!

While this is positive news, Adnan’s fellow digital dissenter Emin Milli is still in prison. So is Eynulla Fatullayev who remains in prison despite a reluctant Azerbaijani Supreme Court dropping most of the fabricated charges against him this week.

Thank you for taking action for Adnan.

UPDATE: Emin is also free!!!

Ask Obama to Help Donkey Bloggers

A year after being arrested for digital dissent (official charge was “hooliganism”) including a YouTube conference in donkey suit mocking Azerbaijan’s government, bloggers Emin Milli (Abdullayev) and Adnan Hajizade are still behind bars.

Now, Adnan’s father and Emin’s wife have drafted a petition asking US President Barack Obama “to raise this issue in [his] discussions with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and call for the release of Hajizada and Milli” during the upcoming 65th United Nations General Assembly in New York.

I just signed the letter and ask you to do the same (click here to sign the letter).

The bloggers’ relatives need 1,000 signatures by September 20th.

For more background on the bloggers, see my earlier post.