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OSCE Hopeful Azerbaijani Bloggers Will Be Released

Miklos Haraszti at a press conference in Baku
BAKU (Reuters) -- Europe's main security and human rights watchdog has said it was hopeful that two young opposition bloggers standing trial in Azerbaijan would be released after it held talks with the authorities.

The case has drawn fire from the European Union and rights groups concerned over curbs on freedom of speech in the tightly-run former Soviet republic, a supplier of oil and natural gas to the West in the strategically important South Caucasus.

Adnan Hajizada, 26, a video blogger and member of the "OL!" opposition movement and activist Emin Milli, 30, have been held since July after an incident in a cafe in Baku.

The pair say they were victims of an unprovoked attack, but police charged them with hooliganism and inflicting minor bodily harm. They face up to five years in prison if convicted.

Miklos Haraszti, media freedom representative for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), met Azerbaijani presidential aide Ali Hasanov.

Haraszti told a news conference: "My firm impression is that his [Hasanov's] assumption is that these people will not be convicted for imprisonment."

"The good news is that Mr. Hasanov has said the presidential administration is actually sharing my concern for the case, for handling of the case and his assumption is that the case will be positively resolved at the end of procedures," Haraszti said in English.

The bloggers were refused bail last week at the start of their trial, which resumes on September 16.

Their arrest came shortly after Hajizada posted his latest tongue-in-cheek swipe at authorities under President Ilham Aliyev, in which he held a news conference dressed as a donkey.

Rights groups warned of a crackdown on emerging online media. Azerbaijan's authorities deny the arrests are politically motivated, saying it is "an ordinary hooliganism case."