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Azerbaijani Opposition Leader Gets To Play Spartan Hero (On YouTube At Least)

"This is Azerbaijan!"

"This is Azerbaijan!"

King Leonidas, the under-armed but courageous Spartan leader, kicks the messenger for Xerxes, the evil Persian god-king, into an endless black hole. It signals the start of an uprising.

But in an Azeri-dubbed parody version of the scene from "300," Leonidas and the messenger speak with the voices of two Azerbaijani presidential candidates.

In the clip, which has gone viral, the voice of opposition candidate Camil Hasanli, dubbing over Leonidas, condemns another candidate for his misdeeds.

"Ilham Aliyev's government is up to its knees in corruption and Aliyev himself is up to his throat in it," Hasanli tells Hafiz Haciyev, a pro-government candidate accused by the opposition of running only to give Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev the appearance of free elections. "Look what conditions you have brought to our people."

Hasanli's voice yells, "This government must go!" as Leonidas kicks his rival into the pit -- a slight variation of the scene from the original 2007 blockbuster, in which actor Gerard Butler screams, "This is Sparta!"

Mehman Huseynov, the well-known pro-democracy blogger who created the video -- viewed over 17,000 times since October 1 -- was detained by the authorities on October 2 shortly after the clip was uploaded to YouTube. He was released after three hours.

"They told me to behave and slow down my preelection activities on the Internet," the Hasanli supporter told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service shortly after his release. "I reminded them that I am a journalist. I also noted what President Aliyev claims very often -- that the Internet is free in Azerbaijan. My activity is not against the law and I will continue to produce satirical and critical videos."

Human rights monitors have accused Azerbaijan's authorities of ramping up pressure on journalists and opposition activists in advance of next week's presidential election. In a report released last month, Human Rights Watch called it a "comprehensive crackdown."

Huseynov himself is facing up to five years in prison on hooliganism charges for allegedly assaulting a police officer during a 2012 protest he was covering. He needs to seek permission before leaving Azerbaijan and was prevented from travelling to Norway in June to receive a press-freedom prize.

The audio of the two presidential candidates used for the "300" video apparently comes from recent presidential debates, which have been sometimes raucous affairs.

In a debate last month, Haciyev threw a bottle of water at Hasanli after the latter accused Aliyev's administration of corruption (at about the 2-minute mark in the video below).

Aliyev has not participated in the debates for an election he is widely expected to win.

Hasanli is regarded as the only viable opposition candidate and activists have mocked Haciyev's antics. After his release on October 2, Huseynov posted a photo of himself sporting a shirt quoting a threat Haciyev directed toward the opposition in one debate.

"I will choke you in your blood," it says.

-- Arife Kazimova and Glenn Kates

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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