US 'regrets' blogger jailings in Azerbaijan
(AFP) – 11 hours ago
WASHINGTON — The United States "regrets" the jailing of two Azerbaijan bloggers who were critical of their country in online postings, the State Department said Wednesday.
"The United States regrets today's court decision in Azerbaijan to imprison Azerbaijani youth leaders Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade," said spokesman Ian Kelly.
"This court decision is a step backwards for Azerbaijan's progress towards democratic reform."
Hajizade, 26, and Milli, 30, were found guilty of hooliganism over a scuffle at a restaurant in Baku, their lawyer, Isakhan Ashurov, told AFP. Hajizade was jailed for two years and Milli two and a half years.
The bloggers, who had been in jail since their arrests in July, say they were targeted for political reasons because of their online criticism of authorities in the oil-rich nation.
The pair had posted a satirical Internet video of a donkey giving a press conference.
Rights groups blasted the ruling, saying it is aimed at silencing independent media. Azerbaijan authorities have said the charges are unrelated to the bloggers' criticism of the government.
The jail sentences "have raised concerns about the independence of the police and the judiciary, as well as about restrictions on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan," Kelly said.
Expressing hope the events do not point to "further erosion" of free speech rights in the former Soviet republic, he called for the appeal process to be "conducted in a fair, timely, and transparent manner."
But the State Department spokesman said Washington "remains committed" to working with Baku on democratic reforms.
Azerbaijan is ruled by President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father in 2003. A referendum earlier this year lifted term limits on the presidency, paving the way, according to opposition groups, for Aliyev to become president for life.
Dozens of journalists have been jailed in recent years under laws that make libel a criminal offense, rather than a civil matter, as in many Western countries.
Azerbaijan last year banned foreign broadcasts, effectively ending local-language broadcasts by the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Liberty.