Back on July 8, late at night, I received an alarming text message. Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada, two prominent Azerbaijani bloggers and youth leaders had been assaulted that evening and were still at the police station.
To get the latest updates, I immediately logged in to Facebook. There, at first still in shock, a handful of Azerbaijani youth activists were just beginning to pass on the news and spread the word.
During the four months that Emin and Adnan spent in confinement before and during their trial, their friends turned Facebook into a modern telegraph; their status updates were news dispatches, rather than answers to what-are-you-doing questions.
Chanting "Freedom" outside the court and waiting painstakingly for the first footage to be uploaded to YouTube became equally sacred rituals. And since the assault on the bloggers and their detention, countless text messages, phone calls, Facebook status updates, instant messages, emails, tweets, and blogposts were flying around.
It is not because we live in such a sophisticated high-tech society that we spread and read the news through such innovative ways, but rather it is the lack of media freedom that drives Azerbaijan's youth to turn to more creative forms of news distribution.
After years of pressure and media crackdowns, the avenues of free speech in Azerbaijan have become narrow backstreets. Local television channels completely ignored the detained-bloggers story; a whole staff of a popular youth newspaper resigned en mass, after sponsors blocked the publication of the bloggers' photos.
Opposition media wasn't of much help either -- one of the leading outlets published the worst smear article on Emin and Adnan in the best traditions of Soviet "Pravda."
Having been failed by traditional media, we were compelled to become our own citizen journalists -- for if we weren’t, no one would ever care.
News itself has become the most valuable asset to guard and pass on. Each time Twitter users managed to enter into the courtroom and live-tweet a session, it would not be a show of any particular craftsmanship, but it was a vital response to the judge's decision not to allow any filming or recording of the proceedings.
Emin and Adnan's case is not just another cause, or an attempt by a bunch of people to get their blogger friends out of jail. It is a struggle taking places in the trenches of freedom of expression. It is a manifestation of Repression 2.0, which is increasingly strangling the nascent online community in our country.
Now, after the court has sentenced Emin and Adnan to 2 and 1/2 and 2 years respectively, despite the huge internal and international pressure, one question is being frequently asked: How do Azerbaijani youth activists and citizen journalists feel? Are they scared? Will this verdict cause them to be less outspoken and critical in the future?
The results of this trial are as unpredictable as the trial was itself. From what we have witnessed, those youth activists and citizen journalists have become more politically conscious, outspoken, and organized.
They are small in number, but they are all as motivated as Emin Milli, who declared at the court that it was an honor for him to be imprisoned for his ideals.
And Emin's last tweet before his arrest still has that prophetic quote from a late Azerbaijani president: "Without sacrifices there isn't any freedom. Therefore, today myself and people like me have to be arrested."
-- Ali S. Novruzov