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Nice to see the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton take a stand on the case of Azerbaijan's "donkey bloggers," who in 2009 received jail terms, ostensibly on hooliganism charges.

In a statement today Ashton said:

The High Representative regrets the decision by the Supreme Court of Azerbaijan on 19 August 2010 to uphold the prison sentences against youth activists Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade. The High Representative considers that the shortcomings of the trial, notably with regards to international standards of fairness and transparency, and its conclusion, send a negative signal with regard to the situation of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan. The High Representative calls on Azerbaijan to release Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade.

Prior to their arrest, the bloggers had distributed a satirical video on YouTube mocking the government for supposedly wasting oil revenues -- the video involved them dressing in donkey suits. (More background here.)

Unfortunately Ashton's statement probably won't do much good. The EU has made similar statements before and Hillary Clinton brought up the issue with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on her recent visit there, but to no avail.

While the government wants to send a message to its tech-savvy, opposition-minded youth that it won't stand for this kind of thing, it does care what the outside world thinks about it. (It certainly didn't like the bad headlines over "The Washington Post" corruption story.)

Azerbaijan does desperately want to be seen as Western, but only in that it has glitzy airports, fancy football teams, and Gucci boutiques. It's not so bothered about the rule of law or free media part. In fact, for now, it doesn't even seem to be interested in making a gesture that would likely win some brownie points from the EU and United States.

There's elections in October, so that might be the time for a "benevolent" gesture, which would be a convenient smokescreen for the likely flawed elections. We'll see.