Girlfriend says Hajizada’s injuries untreated as judge rejects detention appeal

By Dan Petty and Stephanie Rice
Collegian Reporters

A judge in the Azerbaijan capital of Baku has rejected an appeal of the two-month pretrial detention for activists Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada, dealing a serious setback to opposition hopes that they would be freed before going to trial on charges of hooliganism, Hajizada’s father confirmed.

In response, Hajizada’s lawyer filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. Hikmet Hajizada, Adnan Hajizada’s father, said they filed to complain that police had treated Hajizada inhumanely during his arrest. The hearing is set for 10:30 a.m. on July 22.

Outside the court on Monday, more than 60 young activists, journalists, bloggers and representatives of international organizations were waiting for word of the decision, bloggers from Ol! Youth Movement reported. The date for the trial on charges of hooliganism was not immediately clear.

“Unfortunately they try sometimes to politicize such incidents and to make a show and to use it against the statehood of Azerbaijan,” said Ali Hasanov, chief of the public policy department of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, in an interview with the Azerbaijan Press Agency.

Milli’s lawyer, Elton Guliyev, decried the decision by the presiding judge, Mirpasha Huseynov, as “absolutely illegal” and also vowed to continue fighting the ruling. The two face up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Their alleged attackers — Babek Huseynov and Vusal Mammadov — also issued a statement to the APA, saying that boisterous swearing from Milli and Hajizada’s party at a restaurant in Baku led to a heated debate that eventually erupted into a fight.

“Although we did not want to start a fight, they attacked us,” the statement read. “We were trying to protect ourselves. Two of them were beating us ruthlessly. As a result, we suffered multiple injuries. We are still being treated in a hospital up to this day.”

Both voiced sharp criticism of newspapers and a news media they believe are staging a campaign against them, charging that police are being influenced by the media’s accusations of guilt against them, which pushes the police to work partially.

Police arrested Milli and Hajizada on July 8 after the fight that began, other witnesses say, when one of the men approached their table to complain about their criticism of the government. Milli and Hajizada said when they didn’t respond, the men butted them in the heads, prompting the fight and leading the activists to go to report it to authorities afterward. But police held them as suspects, then filed the hooliganism charges. The other men in the fight were not arrested.
As the decision ushered in fresh criticism from human rights groups and foreign governments, a portrait of Hajizada began emerging as one of a politically engaged idealist, earnest in his attempts to bring Azerbaijan closer to democracy.

In an e-mail sent early Tuesday morning, Hajizada’s girlfriend, Parvana Persiani, said she last saw him on July 10, handcuffed as he was transported from a temporary detention facility to the Sabail District Police Office in the presence of Azeri authorities. She was not among the group at the restaurant in Baku where the attack occurred.

“He just asked whether everything was OK, and I told him yes,” Persiani said of Hajizada. “His nose was broken from the very beginning, and he is still not being treated by doctors. His face was black and blue, but he was looking strong morally.”

She described Hajizada as the most honest person she had ever known and said he was someone who show his love for his native country by working to spur its development.

“There are a lot of people in Azerbaijan who dream about leaving the country as soon as possible to get an education abroad, just to get a new job with a better salary to buy a very nice apartment and the best car,” she said. “Adnan had all these chances, but he didn’t stay in the United States after he graduated from Richmond. He came back.”

In this spirit, Hajizada — a 2005 Richmond graduate with a political science degree — established the Ol! Youth Movement in 2006, a group dedicated to cultivating a politically engaged, independent and well-educated youth in Azerbaijan.

Hajizada, a member of the Mock Trial team while at Richmond, earned a second bachelor’s degree in 2007 from Khazar University in law. He then enlisted in the Azerbaijan army as part of the country’s mandatory service law, after which he continued his activism on social networking Web sites by producing short videos. Now, he also serves as internal communications director of oil giant BP in Azerbaijan, but dreams of becoming a film director one day, Persiani said.

“He always says, ‘I can’t understand the people who look at the world only from the windows of their cars,’” she wrote. “‘Can’t they understand that the world, our country, is different — that we should try to make changes here?’”

Widespread bribery allows the wealthy to avoid military conscription, an option Hajizada could have exercised, but did not, Persiani said. He served for one year.

His father formerly served as the Azerbaijan ambassador to Russia and is a popular political analyst, which has wielded great influence over Adnan Hajizada’s political views, Persiani said.
“His education abroad made him a real ‘agent of change,’” she said.

Among those awaiting Monday’s appeal decision were European Union representatives who protested the arrests and 27 EU member states that sent a statement expressing concern for human rights in Azerbaijan, the Reuters news agency reported.

Their arrest has drawn international attention and condemnation from human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, and prompted 17 professors last week to send letters of support to Congressional leaders and Aliyev, the Azeri president.

“I would rather regret the things that I did, than to regret the things that I did not do,” Hajizada wrote in a quote posted to his Facebook profile. “I would rather be an honest failure than a corrupt success.”

Human rights groups are accusing the Azerbaijani government of oppressing free speech.
Reporters Without Borders issued a statement following Monday’s ruling, charging there were no grounds for a decision they said boded ill for free expression in Azerbaijan.

“We reiterate our call for the release of Hajizadeh and Mili, who are being held for political reasons, not because they committed any crime,” the statement read. “They have been paying a high price for the dishonesty of the authorities ever since their arrest.”

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, a group based in Italy, claimed Azeri authorities ignored evidence, refused Milli and Hajizada medical treatment and told lies about Milli and Hajizada’s condition when they were arrested.

Three members of the European Commission, referred to as the European “Troika,” met with Aliyev on Monday and discussed the duo’s arrests, reported the Turan Information Agency, an online news source in Azerbaijan.

The Swiss Foreign Minister Karl Bildt told Turan reporters that he had voiced his concern over the arrests to Aliyev and the “condition of human rights and freedoms in Azerbaijan,” along with ambassadors from the EU member states and the Norwegian government.

David Kramer, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said in an interview with Turan that he was disturbed by the arrests and that Milli and Hajizada should be released and those who allegedly attacked them arrested. The interview was posted on Ol!’s blog.
“The international community has responded to this situation but it needs to be louder in voicing its concerns and objections,” he said. “We should be standing firm by the principle of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, including Internet freedom.”

Azerbaijani authorities argued they had not denied freedoms to anyone and that Aliyev was popular with Azeri citizens because of a recent economic boom from oil sales, Reuters reported.
Activists say the government began targeting dissenters when oil became an Azeri industry and argued Western countries had softened their criticism of the government to keep more of a hold than Russia on Azeri resources.

Aliyev’s family has been in power for decades, starting with his father Heydar Aliyev. His term was slated to end until a referendum eliminated the two-term presidential limit, offering Aliyev a chance for re-election.

This version of the story ADDS information about the appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, a statement from Reporters Without Borders, and UPDATES with minor edits throughout.

Dan Petty reported from Denver and Stephanie Rice from San Diego.

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