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Youth Activists Arrested In Azerbaijan

Emin Milli pictured in January 2009
Emin Milli pictured in January 2009
Prominent Azerbaijani youth activists Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada were arrested early on July 9 after being involved in a fight in a restaurant.

Milli, of the Alumni Network, and Hajizada, of the OL Youth group, were having dinner with five friends on July 8 when they were reportedly approached by two people who said they were offended by the activists' conversation.

According to reports, the two men then started physically assaulting Milli and Hajizada. The attack was stopped only when restaurant staff intervened. Hajizada was later diagnosed with a broken nose.

Milli and Hajizada tried to file a complaint with the police at a local station, but were told it was under the jurisdiction of a different station. They were taken by car to that station and examined by a doctor.

Both activists, as well as a witness from their party and the two attackers, were then taken to a hospital and given alcohol tests, though the results were not released.

Later all five were brought back to the district police department in central Baku. After hours of questioning, written and oral testimonies which lasted till 2 a.m., Hajizada was told he would be held as a suspect for 48 hours. Milli, who protested the decision, was also detained.

According to the witness, who was released soon after, the police investigator threatened to charge Milli and Hajizada with hooliganism, for which they could face a sentence of 1 1/2 years in prison.

An Interior Ministry spokesperson told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that both attackers were released as "they tried to restore order and had been beaten by Milli, Hajizada, and their group."

Hajizada was denied access to a lawyer during police questioning, and neither his lawyer nor his parents were allowed to see him on July 8. While they were allowed lawyer visits on July 9, their parents are still prevented from visiting their sons.

Emin Milli is known as a critic of the government who is very active in social networks like Facebook. Hajizada is one of the founders of the OL Youth group, which highlights the social problems of young people with popular videos shared on Youtube and social networking sites.

Human rights activist Leyla Yunus said the way the activists were attacked and then arrested leads her to conclude the whole incident could've been planned by the special services and police. She cited the case of Qanimat Zahid, editor in chief of the "Azadliq" newspaper, who was sentenced to four years in prison on hooliganism charges after being attacked by an unknown person.

The U.S., German, and Norwegian embassies have expressed concern and hope that the government will punish those who attacked the activists and release Milli and Hajizada.

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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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