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OSCE Official Hopes For Release Of Azerbaijani Activists

Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE's representative on freedom of the media
Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE's representative on freedom of the media
BAKU -- The media representative for Europe's main human rights and security body, the OSCE, says she is hopeful that two Azerbaijani activists who called for antigovernment protests via Facebook will be released from prison soon, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Dunja Mijatovic, the Representative on Freedom of the Media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told RFE/RL she has discussed the predicament of Cabbar Savalan and Baxtiyar Haciyev (aka Bakhtiyar Hajiyev) with President Ilham Aliyev. She did not specify when.

Mijatovic was speaking to RFE/RL on October 21 in Tbilisi on the sidelines of the eighth annual South Caucasus Media Conference.

Savalan, an opposition activist, and Haciyev, a Harvard graduate and former parliamentary candidate, were both jailed on criminal charges they regard as retaliation for their use of social media to criticize the Azerbaijani authorities.

Haciyev was jailed in May for two years for evading military service, while Savalan was sentenced in May to 2 1/2 years in jail for illegal possession of drugs.

Mijatovic rejected the argument that bloggers "are not journalists." She said her mandate extends to raising her voice on behalf of anyone imprisoned or harassed for expressing his or her views freely.

"When I raise my voice for bloggers, Facebook activists, sometimes I'm told that they're not journalists," she said. "I do not engage myself in defining journalism when I see that people are stopped by imprisonment or any other form of harassment for expressing their views freely. I think it's my mandate to raise my voice and to ask for their release. This is actually the case with two of them at the moment."

In May, shortly after Mijatovic visited Azerbaijan, Eynulla Fatullayev, a journalist and newspaper editor who had turned into one of the symbols of Azerbaijan's crackdown on freedom of expression, was freed after spending some four years in jail.

RFE/RL asked Mijatovic what she would say to people who think her intervention is needed to secure the release of Haciyev and Savalan.

"I really think that everything that happens in Azerbaijan happens because of a decision by the Azerbaijani government," she said.

Mijatovic said she will visit Azerbaijan very soon to discuss the decriminalization of defamation.