Deja Vu: Youth activists, bloggers targetted in the South Caucasus
Estranged neighbours they may be, but it’s often been said that of all the countries in the South Caucasus and the surrounding region Armenia and Azerbaijan are the most similar. True, one is mainly moslem and the other not, but most outside observers would be hard pressed to find any other differences in terms of mentality or local culture. Unfortunately, however, such similarities now extend to how the police and courts deal with youth activists critical of the authorities.
At the beginning of the month, Tigran Arakelyan, a member of the Hima! (Now!) extra-parliamentary opposition youth wing movement was assaulted by plainclothed policemen. Reports indicate that several others were pistol-whipped, but rather than suspend or dismiss those guilty for the incident, Arakelyan was instead arrested and charged with "hooliganism." The police allege that the somewhat weedy-looking activist beat three policemen, chased after them as they tried to escape, and then beat them some more. Arakelyan is now in pre-trial detention for two months.
As youth activists face trial in Azerbaijan on charges of hooliganism despite eye witness accounts that they were instead the victims of assault, concerns are emerging that the way in which young opponents are targeted is becoming the modus operandi for authoritarian regimes in the region.
This is particularly true given a similar case in Armenia when several members of the opposition Hima! (Now!) youth movement were injured while handing out leaflets advertising a political rally at the beginning of July. Reports say that some of them were pistol whipped by police.
The detention of one for “hooliganism” has led opposition blogs such as Free Armenia to consider him as the “youngest political prisoner” in the country. link
Deja Vu. A little over a week later, local youth activist Emin Milli and prominent video blogger as well as OL! (Be!) founder Adnan Hajizada were dining in a Lebanese restaurant in downtown Baku when two men approached them. Without warning, Milli and Hajizada were beaten, but as was the case in Armenia, rather than arrest and prosecute those responsible, the victims were instead detained. Even the support of the U.S., German and Norwegian embassies didn’t help matters. They too were given two months pre-trial detention for "hooliganism."
In what might be the first case of a prominent blogger being assaulted and detained in the South Caucasus, two youth activists were yesterday imprisoned for two months pre-trial investigative detention in what many consider to be a travesty of justice.
Denied access to the trial held behind closed doors, one Facebook status line update reported that the German Human Rights Ombudsperson, coincidentally in Baku at the time, considered its conduct to be in violation of Azerbaijan’s international commitments.[…]
The young activists and their friends had already appeared on the radar screen with a protest demonstration dispersed by police in May during which Mili had also been detained along with several others. Indeed, on the day of the trial, RFE/RL wondered if it wasn’t some of this work which attracted the attention of the authorities. link
Alarm bells should be ringing in the Council of Europe. If nothing is done now then it seems likely that more cases will follow, and as Hajizada likely ran foul of the authorities because of his online reporting, some concern has to be registered about the first imprisonment of a blogger in the region. Updates on the case in Armenia can be found on the Hima! blog while Frontline’s Ali S. Novruzov is updating readers on the case in Azerbaijan here on this site. OL! also has a blog and can be followed on Twitter.