Azerbaijani Protests Led Through Social Media
- Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada
- Bloggers and Index on Censorship press freedom award nominees Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada were critical of the government on- and offline. On June 28, 2009 they uploaded a satirical video. Less than a month later, they were assaulted in a restaurant and arrested for “hooliganism.” They were released in November 2010.
In 2011 a Facebook campaign known as the Great People’s Movement was launched for activists in Azerbaijan. With accounts on YouTube, Twitter, and an official website, the Great People’s Movement has reached over 1,000 users who claim to be registered for protests in 2012, and a reported 40,000 users who have shared material. The movement’s goal is to organize social activism online and garner participants for public protests on March 11. The date is significant as the anniversary of 2011 protests known as the Great People’s Day.
- Mounting Tension
- 2005 March: Unsolved murder of Monitor editor Elmar Huseynov
- 2009 January: Azerbaijan broadcasting no longer includes international news sources: BBC, Voice of America, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, et al.
- 2010 September 7-9: Nine leading press freedom organizations form International Partnership Group for Azerbaijan; publishes “Free Expression Under Attack: Azerbaijan’s Deteriorating Media Environment” in October.
- 2010 November: Parliamentary elections suspected of fraud.
- 2011 March, April: Arab Spring; Protests also in Azerbaijan.
- 2011 March 11: Great People’s Day – Protesting in Baku launched through Facebook.
- 2011 November 23: Unsolved murder of editor Rafiq Tagi, previously imprisoned throughout 2007.
- Dissidents and Trumped Up Charges
- Eynulla Fatullayev (April 2007 – May 2011): Release credited to pressure from international organizations.
- Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada (July 2009 – Nov. 2010): Bloggers, activists; conditionally released.
- Jabbar Savalan (Feb. 5, 2011 – Dec. 27, 2011): 20-y.o. blogger charged with drug possession; arrested after his Facebook called for protest. Charged with a 30-month sentence, but granted early pardon.
- Bakhtiyar Hajivev (March 4, 2011 – present): Charged January 2011 with evading military service after posting critical videos. Arrested after it was known he helped organize the Great People’s Day protest.
- Avaz Zeynalli (October 28, 2011 – present): independent daily editor-in-chief charged with bribery and extortion, charges filed by parliament member.
Last year the Great People’s Day was met with several arrests as protesters assembled in the capital and called for the release of fellow activists, some of whom were arrested for helping to organize the day’s protests. Their arrests, among many others in recent years, have drawn criticism from Amnesty International, the European Union, and several leading press freedom organizations.
The Great People’s Movement was founded by exiled journalist, social media activist, and blogger Elnur Majidli. Majidli has been living in France since he was charged for “inciting national, ethnic, or religious hatred” in April for the groups he organized on Facebook. Besides being a platform for organizing protests, his groups call for freedom from dictatorship, corruption, and tyranny, and for the release of political prisoners. Because of Majidli’s online activity the Ministry of Security has set-up a special Facebook team to monitor web activists. Members of Majidli’s family have also been blacklisted. If he returns to Azerbaijan he could face 12 years’ imprisonment. Majidli is one of many online activists who have faced arrest in Azerbaijan.
Fellow supporter of the Great People’s Movement, Bakhtiyar Hajivev, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment on March 4 – a week before the Great People’s Day protests – on the trumped up charge of evading military service. Several other Azerbaijani activists have also been arrested near the time of political demonstrations on false and unrelated charges, such as drug possession.
This was the case for investigative journalist Eynulla Fatullayev, who was harassed for years before his first arrest in April 2007 for defamation. This was shortly followed by charges in October 2007 for terrorism, inciting racial and ethnic hatred, and tax evasion. He was also charged with drug possession in December 2009. All charges were contested by the European Court of Human Rights and are widely believed to be politically motivated.
Fatullayev was finally released from prison on May 26, 2011. He credited his release to attention from international organizations such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijan Service Radio Azadliq.
Azerbaijan currently ranks at 152 out of 178 on the press freedom index. In 2003 the country was ranked at 113. Many citizens are afraid to report on government corruption under the continued regime of President Ilham Aliyev, who took office in 2003 and has been named a “predator of press freedom” by Reporters Without Borders.
Azerbaijan’s opposition party has remarked that the planned demonstrations of the Great People’s Movement are necessary in the light of the nation’s repressive political environment. Meanwhile, the Great People’s Movement “calls on the citizens of the world to take part in bringing freedom to Azerbaijan… and to create a dialogue among people who share the same vision. This is not simply an issue in Azerbaijan, it should be a concept that unites all the citizens of the world.”