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Старый 24.09.2010, 02:37   #2476
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Reuters: Families of jailed Azeri bloggers appeal to Obama

BAKU | Thu Sep 23, 2010 5:44am EDT

BAKU | Thu Sep 23, 2010 5:44am EDT
(Reuters) - Relatives of two Azeri bloggers jailed in a case condemned by rights groups appealed to U.S. President Barack Obama Thursday to press for their release during talks with Azerbaijan's leader Ilham Aliyev.

The case goes to the heart of the West's delicate balancing act with the ex-Soviet republic, an energy supplier to Europe and a transit country for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but where democratic freedoms are shrinking under Aliyev.

The families of Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, jailed last year, issued an open letter to Obama asking him to raise the case during talks with Aliyev scheduled for Friday on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly.

The meeting, following a July visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Baku, is part of an effort to shore up relations with the mainly Muslim country -- strategically located between Russia, Turkey and Iran -- after Azerbaijan complained Washington was ignoring its interests.

"Your opinion, representing the principled position of the world's most powerful democracy, would be a strong voice in the defense of free speech and fairness, and would play a crucial role in this case," the families said.

"Please do not foresake youth activists punished solely for their aspirations to see our country modern, free from oppression and part of the world's democratic community."

Hajizade, a video blogger and member of the opposition OL! movement, and activist and blogger Milli, were jailed in November 2009 for 24 and 30 months for hooliganism after an alleged brawl in a cafe.

Their supporters say they were victims of an unprovoked attack, imprisoned as a warning to other activists after posting a satirical swipe at the authorities in which Hajizade held a fake news conference dressed as a donkey.

Rights groups say the charges were fabricated and the trial flawed. The European Union and United States have also voiced concern.

Diplomats and analysts say the country has grown increasingly authoritarian since Aliyev took over in 2003 from his father and long-serving leader Heydar Aliyev. The country holds a parliamentary election on November 7.

(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Ralph Boulton)
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