BAKU - Daily News with wires
The Azerbaijani government’s decision to detain two young bloggers on charges of hooliganism has raised concerns over the future of the country’s nascent blogosphere, widely believed to be among the most robust in the South Caucasus.
Some observers, however, believe that a government attempt to clamp down on new media will backfire and instead pave the way for blogs and other online activism to blossom in the country.
Adnan Hajizade, 26, a co-founder of the OL, or To Be, youth movement, and Emin Milli, 30, a co-founder of the AN Network, were arrested July 8 when they complained to police about an assault by two unknown males in a Baku cafe. Both foreign-educated and known for their criticism of government policies, they were charged with hooliganism and detained pending trial. The pair faces potential five-year prison sentences.
A Baku district court was set to hear Hajizade and Milli’s complaint against the Sabail District police for “harassment and ill-treatment” as the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review went to press today.
Many Azerbaijani and international observers have expressed the belief that the ongoing detention of the two youth activists is politically motivated. They say the government is striving to discourage open political discourse, especially through new forms of mass communication.
After the arrest of Milli and Hajizade, other bloggers may become more cautious in their writing, said Emin Huseynov, executive director of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, or IRSF. “We expect that some young bloggers will stop the open expression of their thoughts. They will change tactics and even operate in a concealed way,” EurasiaNet quoted Huseynov as saying.
However, Huseynov said, “Online publications about this incident and the trial, [and] new campaigns for protection of their rights could turn the two young bloggers into heroes.” He added that the publicity surrounding the case could backfire on the government and boost blogging and online media instead of suppressing it.
The number of AN Network activists seems to be on the rise since the arrests, according to co-founder Elnura Jivazade. “Young people have become more united,” she said. “Those who were cautious about expressing their thoughts, now openly express their protest.”