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Azerbaijani Opposition Activist Jailed For Two Years
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BAKU -- A young opposition activist in Azerbaijan who used the social-networking site Facebook to call for antigovernment protests has been jailed for two years, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

The court in Ganca sentenced Baxtiyar Haciyev (aka Bakhtiyar Hajiyev) for evading military service.

Haciyev, 29, told the judge in court that "you have a chance to show that this verdict [will not be] a political order. [However] I don't believe you will pass a fair decision."

Haciyev, a Harvard graduate and former parliament candidate, denied the charges and attributed his arrest to his Facebook activity trying to organize antigovernment protests.

Haciyev's lawyer said he was planning to appeal the verdict.

Haciyev's mother told RFE/RL the trial was in the spirit of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's 1937 show trials. "From day one I was saying that it is still [1937] in Azerbaijan.... Now I can see that it is even worse than '37."

Haciyev and his supporters launched the March 11 "Great People's Day" online event in which they asked people to click their approval of the protest, as well as to gather in different towns and cities across Azerbaijan.

Baxtiyar Haciyev

He was arrested on March 4 and ordered held in pretrial detention for a month for violating an order not to leave Ganca while previous charges of evading military service were being investigated.

On May 12, the European Parliament condemned the crackdown on opposition protests in Azerbaijan and expressed "deep concern" at the increased number of attacks on civil society, social-network activists, and journalists in the country.

Isa Qambar, the chairman of the opposition Musavat Party, condemned Haciyev's conviction.

Qambar told RFE/RL the verdict "shows how afraid the authorities are of society becoming more active. This decision will only embarrass the Azerbaijani government in the eyes of its own people and in the international arena. The government should stop playing games and start real, serious reforms. And it should start by freeing journalists, youth activists, and opposition members from jails."

The U.S. Embassy in Baku said in a statement that the timing of Haciyev's arrest following his efforts to organize antigovernment protests "raised questions about [the] authorities' use of the judicial system to punish dissent."

It said the United States "firmly supports the strengthening of democratic institutions and the rule of law in Azerbaijan and calls upon judicial authorities to ensure Haciyev's appeals are reviewed in accordance with Azerbaijani law and international commitments."

Haciyev said during the trial -- which was monitored by Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers -- that the reason he returned to Azerbaijan from the United States last year was because he thought "we had a chance to make some reforms."

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek is scheduled to begin a visit to Azerbaijan on May 20.

Read more in Azeri here
A flyer for gay pride near the Kremlin and Russian Duma on May 18
Russian gay-rights activists have expressed disappointment after Moscow authorities banned a gay-pride march in the city.

The decision by Moscow's city hall quashes hopes the new mayor will foster more tolerance toward Russia's beleaguered homosexual community.

Russia's top gay-rights activist, Nikolai Alekseyev, says he received a letter from the mayor's office on May 17 outlawing the rally on the grounds that it could spark civil unrest.

A representative of the mayor's office press department confirmed the ban.

Since the first attempt to hold the event in 2006, the annual gay-pride rallies have been marred by arrests and violent clashes with police and anti-gay onlookers.

Ironically, Alekseyev says the ban was announced on a day celebrated annually by gay-rights activists.

"I don't think it was premeditated, it's simply a coincidence, but this coincidence is nonetheless symbolic," Alekseyev says. "As events are held around the world -- including at an official level -- to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Russia pursues its caveman, primitive policy of bans."

Amnesty International quickly called on Moscow authorities to overturn their decision, saying public morality concerns should never be used to justify restrictions on the freedom of expression.

Same City, Different 'Homophobe'

Alekseyev says activists will continue their tradition of defying the ban and will hold the rally, initially planned for May 28 on a square close to the Kremlin.

The rebuff is a major disappointment for those who had hoped the new mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, would prove more tolerant than his notoriously homophobic predecessor, Yury Luzhkov.

Luzhkov had famously branded the gay-pride rallies as the "work of Satan."

"We had hopes, but these hopes have now definitely been shattered," Alekseyev says. "Unfortunately, they have simply replaced one homophobe with another."

Although Russia decriminalized homosexuality in the early 1990s, there is little tolerance in the country toward gays and lesbians, who say they face routine discrimination.

No Relief

The Russian Orthodox Church, whose representatives have consistently described homosexuality as a disease, has firmly backed Moscow's stance on the rallies.

The latest ban comes despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in favor of Russian homosexuals.

The Strasbourg-based court ruled in October that Moscow authorities had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by forbidding the rallies in 2006, 2007, and 2008.

It has ordered Russia to pay Alekseyev and his colleagues 29,000 euros ($41,269) in damages.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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