The defense began presenting its case on September 29 in the trial of two Azerbaijani youth activists accused of assault. Defense witnesses flatly contradicted the prosecution’s contention that the youth activists were the instigators of a fight. Instead, the court heard testimony that portrayed the duo as the victims of an unprovoked attack.
Twenty-six-year-old Adnan Hajizade, a co-founder of the OL (To Be) youth movement and 30-year-old Emin Milli, a co-founder of the online Alumni Network, were arrested on July 8 for hooliganism after they allegedly started the brawl in a Baku cafe. They have continuously maintained their innocence since their arrest.
The September 29 court session began with testimony from four prosecution witnesses: the restaurant’s cook and three police officers who arrived on the scene the night of the incident. Like many of the prior witnesses, those testifying for the prosecution on September 29 gave vague responses under cross-examination. One police witness, for example, was unable to state what kind of injuries the complainants, Vasul Mammadov and Babek Huseynov, sustained during the fight.
"I don’t know," was a common refrain heard from all of the prosecution witnesses.
One police officer, admitting that both Hajizade and Milli had visible injuries, testified the two youth activists were arrested because "they had been involved in a fight." Milli, questioning the officer from behind the bars of the defendants’ holding-pen, wondered aloud why the police would immediately arrest the injured party: "You saw that we were injured and you arrested us. What’s the logic in that? Why arrest the victims?"
In sharp contrast to prosecution witnesses, two defense witnesses provided detailed testimony about the incident. Parviz Atayev, a friend of the defendants who was present during the altercation, testified that neither of the alleged victims sustained any injuries. Instead, it was complainant Vasul Mammadov who threw the first punch, he claimed. When asked to describe the defendants that night, Atayev recalled that Milli "sat down in the police station, and his body was trembling."
Both Atayev and the second defense witness, Orkhan Qafarli, testified that neither Mammadov nor Huseynov suffered any injuries from the altercation, but that Milli’s leg was injured and Hajizade’s face was bloodied.
A smaller crowd of supporters gathered again outside the courtroom, waiting in the rain to cheer the defendants.
This was the fourth court appearance for Hajizade and Milli since their trial began on September 4. Azerbaijani legislation does not include a "speedy trial" provision for criminal proceedings. Although the delays between each hearing can be frustrating for the defendants and their supporters, legal experts in Azerbaijan say the length of this trial is not out of the ordinary.
Meanwhile, international pressure on the Azerbaijani government continues to build. While in New York earlier in September for the UN General Assembly, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov faced pointed questions during an appearance at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute.
No fewer than five participants pressed Mammadyarov about the bloggers’ case. Mammadyarov defended the independence of the Azerbaijani judiciary system and stressed it was not appropriate for him "to intervene into the investigation and trial." He assured the audience that "a fair trial is part of the whole Constitution of Azerbaijan."
After doubts were expressed that the investigation failed to meet international standards, Mammadyrov shot back that it was inappropriate to "prejudge ? before the trial will finish." He also criticized what he claimed was the politicization of the case. In response to a question characterizing Hajizade and Milli as the victims of human rights abuses, he scolded; "you are yourself politicizing the issue, which is absolutely unacceptable."
Hikmat Hajizade, Adnan’s father and Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Russia from 1992-1993, spoke out about his son’s detention to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Unlike Azerbaijan’s foreign minister, the elder Hajizade has less faith in the judicial system. "In Azerbaijan we have no courts, and it is clear to everyone. Somewhere ’above’ a decision is made," he said.
Reflecting on his son’s imprisonment, the father added, "Adnan chose to be an activist, has done a lot, and now he suffers."
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