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Terrorists in Azerbaijan. Again?

Photo credit RFE/RL Azerbaijan

Photo credit RFE/RL Azerbaijan

Last month a friend of mine contacted me from France, asking "what the hell is going on in Azerbaijan?!". Apparently, she saw the notification that the Embassy of the United States has posted on its webpage, which warned about a terroristic threat and advised its citizens to "remain vigilant, particularly in public places associated with the Western community." A reminder was posted again on February 11th. Some media sources reported the same alerts being posted on the UK embassy's webpage, but I couldn't find it anywhere. On February 14th news about the temporary closure of the Israeli embassy for "technical reasons" broke. The next day it was reported the embassy was back at work, but again, some media sources denied this information.

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Today, around 18.00 one of the central streets (BulBul Avenue) was shut down because of an information about a bomb planted. The pedestrians were asked not to cross the street, the traffic was forbidden. According to RFE/RL Baku, the situation was provoked by an anonymous call about an unknown box left on the street (which is more than a common thing to see in Azerbaijan, but still). The police closed the subway and kept the box surrounded for 45 minutes. The paramedics were also waiting at the scene. It turned out the suspicious object was just an empty shoe box.

The last terrorist attack took place in Azerbaijan in April 30, 2009 in the State Oil Academy. The officials report about 13 people killed and 10 injured. The terrorist, a Georgian citizen of Azerbaijani descent, reportedly committed suicide at the scene.

Corrupt No More

A good things about living in small communities is that rumors usually turn out to be true. I do not mean the gossiping-about-people-and-their-sex-lives kind of rumors, but the ones about important news. Right after Tunisia held the revolution and in the middle of the Egyptian one, the air in Baku started to change. A wave few around Baku, whispering that taking bribes is now forbidden - there is no corruption anymore. And, well, after living your whole life in a country, where you know you'll have to bribe whatever you do and wherever you go - it sounds kind of shocking at first. And since you also know "where the news come from" you don't believe the media sources either.

And that's when you go to the people and ask them if it's true. It turns out it is. A friend of a neighbor was supposed to pay 100 000 EUR annual bribe for his four supermarkets. When he came to the tax guys, they silently sent him to the cashiers, where he paid his official 10 000 EUR and went back home absolutely happy.

Another guy brings cars for sell from Europe to Azerbaijan. He usually pays around 80 000 EUR for several cars on the customs. This time, however, he was also sent to the cashiers and paid 5 000 EUR. He went back to "his guys" and offered to give them the rest, but the horrified used-to-be-bullies sent him home and told not to come back with these kind of offers. The guy celebrated all night and all day.

Then you read about dozens fired in ministries, reforms to be implemented in the most corrupt structures and special services created to address people's problems and complaints. And for the first time in your life you feel the scent of Change.

But the saddest part is, the first thing to come to your mind is: "I wonder how long it will last". Because, let's be honest, why does it take two revolutions thousand miles away to fix the biggest problem, that harmed and drove away two generations of your people and made the country #134 in the world corruption index?

However, since as any desperate activist I'm not only a cynical critic, but also a believer, I'll lean back in my chair and wait. I'll wait for the 19-year-old to be released from the prison; I'll wait for my friends to be taken off the hook of a conditional release for the crime they did not commit; I'll wait for the irrational projects and economical solutions to be abolished or fixed; I'll wait for the day when I will not need rumors to believe the news.

Amen to that.

Sandmonkey on MSNBC

Sandmonkey and yours truly being scared at Stassi archives in Berlin, Germany in 2010.

Sandmonkey and yours truly being scared at Stassi archives in Berlin, Germany in 2010.

Famous Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey, whom I recently interviewed for RFE/RL and who later was arrested, assaulted and basically robbed by the Egyptian police, is talking on MSNBC from Tahrir square here.

A Teenage Convict

On April 30th, 2010 I was taken to the police station for participating in a peaceful protest action along with a number of other people. It was my second time (the first one was also for peaceful protest) and I knew exactly what they were going to ask me. "What were you doing there?"

"Who were you with?"

"Are you a member of any opposition party?"

"Are you a member of any opposition party?"

"Are you a member of any opposition party?"

They pressed no charges, didn't open a case and let us - non-partisans - go in several hours. All the members of oppositional parties were taken to the court and sentenced 10 to 15 days of detention. Not their first time, not their last time.

***

Jabbar Savalan, 19-year-old political activist imprisoned in Azerbaijan poses with Azerbaijani flag. Photo taken from his personal archive.

Jabbar Savalan, 19-year-old political activist imprisoned in Azerbaijan poses with Azerbaijani flag. Photo taken from his personal archive.

On February 5th a 19-year-old member of AXCP's Youth Committee (one of two biggest opposition parties in Azerbaijan) Jabbar Salavan was arrested in Sumgayit city for drug possession. Police found (?) 0.17 grams of narcotic substances (the kind is unclear) with him.

His family was looking for him for 6 hours. While he was held in the police station, his phone was taken away, he was being interrogated. When his mother finally called the police to report her missing son - they told her he was in the police station the whole time.

His friends claim he doesn't use drugs. The fellow party members say, he was spotted and ever since followed by the police after a conflict between opposition and police on January 20th.

Today, the court sentenced Savalan 2 months of pre-trial detention.

Why I don't believe he's guilty? Because using drugs and being in opposition in Azerbaijan is a suicide. They're usually being followed and threatened, their parents lose their jobs, their phones are under surveillance.

But, since we're supposed to analyze things objectively, let's pretend he was. He's 19, he's fed up, bored, angry and is using drugs (as most of the young men in his city).

Will imprisoning teenagers solve a pretty serious drug problem in Azerbaijan?

Why are so many people who use and sell are still free?

Are those who imprisoned Savalan aware that convicts use drugs while IN prisons?

I think they are.

I also think, they know exactly what this detention will turn this young guy's life into.

And it's heartbreaking. Not the first time, not the last time.

***

The blog young activists prepared for this case. News there are being posted in Russian, English and Azerbaijani.

The Facebook group for Savalan.

The case of Jabbar Savalan and other oppressions of Azerbaijani youth on RFE/RL by Ali Novruzov.

Eurasianet about the Egyptian influence on Azerbaijani politics.

Democracy Freedom and Dignity

As the resistance in Egypt continues today, these are today's updates.

Egypt in Tweets:

@alfredoboca: If your government shuts down the internet, shut down your government.

@hasanalikhattak: women expected to take active role in protests today after men spent the night protecting neighborhoods #Egypt #Jan25

@samihtoukan Arab people are not extremist nor terrorists.Our time has come.We deserve democracy and to live with freedom and dignity #jan25 #egypt

‎@sandmonkey: 5 years ago my beliefs made me a minority opposition, today I am the people #jan25

@chrisalbon: AJE in Egypt is shut down. If there was ever a time for citizen journalism, this is it.

UPD:Dan Nolan updates information on the closure of Al Jazeera on his Twitter.

AlJazeera crew leave Suez as no longer safe to be there. Direct threats made against jazeera. Unsure where anger originating? Thugs? 

#Jan25

Aljazeera Cairo bureau has been shut down. Just visited by plain clothes government security, TV uplink is now closed 

#Egypt

8 guys here. Angry discussion at our live position that’s been bringing you all those dramatic pictures 

#Jan25

#Egypt

Packing our equipment. We have been kicked out of office. Jazeera only network being shut down according to these guys 

#Jan25

#Egypt

Gov’t agents say they’ve been watching our coverage but also listening to our phone calls. 

#Jan

25 

#Egypt

UPD:

@bbclysedoucet just saw a man in a suit and tie directing Cairo traffic..police nowhere to be seen #Jan25 # Egypt

Dan Nolan

Fighter jets now streaking across the skies of downtown Cairo as curfew approaches 

#Egypt

(via phone)

A show of force to intimidate protestors. Doubt it will work, nobody seems to be leaving Tahrir Square 

#Egypt

(via phone)

@CNNbrk Fighter planes fly low over crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square, 10 minutes before state-imposed curfew. news.blogs.cnn.com/…

@CNNbrk#Egypt opposition leader ElBaradei calls for Mubarak to "leave today and save the country." news.blogs.cnn.com/…

UPD:

@sharifkouddous Tahrir is packed. Crowd has swelled. Jets keep passing overhead. Mood is celebratory. Chanting for Mubarak to get out. #Egypt

@ellozy: Thousands chanting in Tahrir Square: "Hosni [Mubarak] has gone mad!" #jan25#Egypt

UPD:

@Tahirimran: The soldier says if I don't want to get injured I should leave, I ask him what do you mean? He tells me things wold turn nasty#Egypt#jan30

@sharifkouddous: sitting next to my uncle. He's been protesting alone on the streets for years.  My uncle: "remember when I would stand alone and protest? Now look at everyone here. "this is a dream come true" #Egypt

@sharifkouddous: People wave and hold up victory signs whenever the helicopter flies low overhead #Egypt

UPD:

@Dima_Khatib: Clinton: we expect free fair elections as an outcome of what is happening in Egypt. FIRST TIME US SAYS THAT !!! #egypt#jan25

@Debbas#Egypt Demonstrators are being taken to jail in Tahrir Square in Cairo . Source OTV Lebanon

@CNNbrk: #Egypt troops fire warning shots into air in Cairo's Tahrir Square as demonstrators defy curfew. http://on.cnn.com/eJR2rB

UPD:

Dan Nolan: In Tahrir Square I see a soldier pull a woman,child+ #Egypt flag on top of his tank.Dancing/waving to chants of 100's of cheering protestors

@Aljazeera: ‎#Egypt army has just told the crowd gathering at Tahrir Square that military will not go against the people #Jan25 #aljazeera

UPD:

@sharifkouddous: Crowd chanting now: "Mubarak has lost his mind" #Egypt

@sharifkouddous: A soldier was carried on shoulders through the crowd. Loud chants of "mubarak this is your last night" #Egypt

@dancefromiraq: another big protest happening on Abdel Moneim Riad Sq. #jan25

@behzad77: please hospitals in Egypt are in need for blood. Please donate if you can! Spread the word and save lives, iA. #Egypt#Jan25

UPD:

@CNNbrk: Nile TV reports prison outbreaks throughout #Egypt. Number of escapees unclear, but more than 3,000 arrested. news.blogs.cnn.com/…

@rhyssumm there r 100,000s of ppl across egypt. do the math of excluding the too young&too old & add protesters' families = most egyptians

@octavianasr#ALjazeera Arabic reports #Egypt Army chief told the protesting crowds: army "won't go against them." #Jan25Via AJ English

UPD:

@sharifkouddous: The energy is indescribable. Huge part of crowd clapping in unison, chanting together. #Egypt

@sharifkouddous: Mubarak is finished. He cannot beat this. They will stay until he leaves. And they are so many now. #Egypt

@sharifkouddous: I am in the middle of a sea of people. Chanting together. "Mubarak get out. We are the children of #Egypt."

@AlArabiya_Eng: @ElBaradei heading to Meydan Tahrir (Liberation Square), Cairo to address the crowds. Estimated at over 100,000.

UPD:

@noornet: AlJazeera: Just confirmed that Mohamed El Baradei (opposition leader of IEA) & son Ali join protestors in Tahrir #jan25#Egypt

@asa_wire The Arab Revolution has spread to Algeria: 10,000 marched yesterday http://bit.ly/fcmY8O#egypt#jan25

***

Egypt in news:

UPD: "Muslim Brothers" are nothing like Islamic fundamentalists of Iran or Afghanistan. Egypt will not repeat their destiny", says El Baradei while being interviewed by CNN. --- Agence France-Presse reports that "thousand" prisoners have escaped from Wadi el-Natroun prison today. The exact number is not clear though.

UPD: Thirty-four members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, including seven members of the leadership, walked out of prison on Sunday after relatives of prisoners overcame the guards, a Brotherhood official said. The relatives stormed the prison in Wadi el-Natroun, 120 km (80 miles) northwest of Cairo, and set free several thousand of the inmates, Brotherhood office manager Mohamed Osama told Reuters. No one was hurt, he added.

UPD:8 HAMAS members have also escaped the Wadi el-Natroun. Two of them, reportedly, are already in Gaza.

---

The employee of Azerbaijani Embassy in Egypt Nijat Khojayev has been shot dead on his way home from work, confirmed by MFA Azerbaijan. His body will be delivered back to Azerbaijan later today. Azerbaijani government, however, didn't make any statements on this issue yet. Allah rehmet elesin!

---

Reuters puts together key elements of the USA-Egyptian relationship, giving brief recent historical overview and publishing the sums of financial aids provided to Egypt by USA in exchange for diplomatic relations with Israel.

---

Probably the biggest news for today so far, is the shut down of Al Jazeera bureau i Egypt. Their license has been revoked, journalists deprived their accreditations. Channel's online producer Evan Hill tweets: "State TV announces Al Jazeera's broadcasting license and press cards are being revoked. Our bureau is packing up. #jan25""The team is working on a plan if the shutdown does occur. For obvious reasons, won't be tweeting the details here. #jan25", he adds later. Al Jazeera's UAE correspondent Dan Nolan has also shared channel's plans: "Don’t worry we’ll still report what’s happening in #Egypt no matter what new restrictions they put on us. #Jan25".

***

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Egypt in pictures:

MSNBC's slideshow on Egyptian bloggers and their destiny can be found here.

A Facebook collection of pictures named Women of Egypt picturing Egyptian female prostesters.

Another great Facebook collection of January 28 protests by Roberto Pitea.

UPD:

Totally cool pics from Egypt at Totallycoolpix

***

Egypt in videos:

An impressive video of an open clash between police and protestants in Egypt on January 28:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXbRdumboZ0&w=480&h=390]

Egyptian army cleansing Cairo museum after looters. Reportedly, a group of protesters has built a human chain around the museum, protecting it from looters until the military forces took over:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3K6RWDLp8U&w=500&h=311]

Al Jazeera's report from last night. Cairo men organizing neighbourhood security groups to protect their homes and property:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7EcB5_fyRY&w=500&h=311]

And of course, a hilarious report on Egypt by Jon Stewart's Daily Show:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c

The Rule of the Nile

www.thedailyshow.com

http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:cms:item:comedycentral.com:372456

Daily Show Full Episodes

Political Humor & Satire Blog

The Daily Show on Facebook

Emin and Adnan: 17 months of change

Bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade celebrate their release after 17 months of imprisonment.

Bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade celebrate their release after 17 months of imprisonment.

This post is not about me. It's about two people, worth love and respect who had to go to prison. And came back.

And their friends and close ones, who stayed on the other side and didn't give up.

***

Emin Milli leaves the prison.

Emin Milli leaves the prison.

Azerbaijani bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade were arrested on July 8th, 2009 with the charge of hooliganism after being beaten by two athletic strangers in one of the downtown cafes. Evidences, such as street camera, which showed them, beaten, going to the police station to file complains, as well as many other evidences that could prove them innocent, were not accepted by the court. Testimonies that could help them, were not heard either. After four months of pre-trial detention, Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade were plead guilty and sentenced 2,5 and 2 years of detention respectively.

But let's start from the beginning.

The night Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade got arrested around 30 people were standing in front of the police station. It was only 30, because Emin asked us not to post any information, since they were promised to be released soon. Their friends were waiting outside the station the whole time, even after a group of policemen, pushed them on the road, saying they are not allowed to stand there, calling them a 'gang'. After 8 hours of waiting, Adnan called to say they are being arrested for 48 hours.

And then there was a snowball...

The campaign, we called AdnanEmin, was probably the biggest of its kind in Azerbaijan. No one will be able to tell you how exactly it all started. It just did. The moment they were arrested, it was posted on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Then moved to blogs, Radio Liberty, then to Yahoo Groups, e-mails, Skypes, Youtube, local media, international media, international organizations (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders and others) and NGOs, political parties and politicians. Then there were numerous statements (EU, CE, OSCE, US Department of State, UK Foreign Office, German Foreign Office and others), meetings, Emin and Adnan being included to agendas, Azerbaijani officials being asked about their case wherever they would go. Articles about them would be translated to countless number of languages, including Russian, English, Turkish, French, Spanish, Portugese, Macedonian, Hindu, Simplified and Traditional Chinese and many others. There was also the appeal of friends of Adnan and Emin to the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev , signed by hundreds of their supporters.

Emin's and Adnan's court hearings would gather up to 100 people, sometimes more. Protest actions would be held in several cities of the world, including Paris, London and Washington DC. Emin's birthday in October 14th, 2009 would be celebrated in LondonParisStrasbourgIstanbul, Ankara, BudapestNew York, Houston, Moscow, Basel and several other cities. There were videos for Adnan's birthday on July 13th (4 days after their arrest).

Then there was Hillary Clinton, mentioning the case of Adnan and Eminprior her visit to Azerbaijan, which was a big

Adnan Hajizade being interviewed by RFE/RL after his release in the courtroom.

Adnan Hajizade being interviewed by RFE/RL after his release in the courtroom.

shock.

"Now, it's only left for Obama to mention it", people would joke... And then, he did.

This campaign was held by a group of friends and supporters of Emin and Adnan, and their friends all around the world. This campaign was held without any financial support. This campaign was mostly intuitive and absolutely sincere.

It was so strong, that randompro-governmental or governmental voices would be left unnoticed.

Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade were released conditionally on November 18th and 19th, 2010. Today, they're home, with their families and friends. They are happy to breathe clean air, sleep in their beds and eat home made food. They say the conditions in prison were tolerable, detainees treated them with respect and guards did not use any violence on them. They have plenty of funny stories from prison and even more information they want to share with the world from almost 300 books they read there.

And they are still not done reading and watching all the material about their campaign.

***

On July 8th, before a group of policemen pushed us on the road away from the police station, the officer asked us who we were and why we were standing there.

"We're their friends", was our response.

"How many friends can a person have?", officer cynically smiled.

"Oh, you'll see", we thought.

And they did.

***

This post shouldn't be about me, but partly, it is. Because writing it makes me happy as never.

Welcome home, Emin and Adnan!

Porn and Elections: Connection Proven

While looking through my Facebook News Feed today, I saw an article posted in The Economist magazine's fan page. I read it andrealized it was fate that brought it to my attention. It's called "Pornography and politics: Rising to the occasion".

According to the studies made by Patrick Markey of Villanova University, in Pennsylvania, and his wife Charlotte, internet searches for porn increase after elections. As they have researched results of USA's presidential elections of 2004 and 2008 and 2006 mid-terms, combining it with WordTracker and Google Trends stats, they came to a surprising conclusion: no matter which side won, searches for porn increased in states that had voted for the winners and decreased in those that had voted for the losers.

"The difference was not huge; it was a matter of one or two per cent. But it was consistent and statistically significant.", says the report.

And as a follow-up to yesterday's post, there's only one thing to add: no matter which side wins, the winner-voters already have a porn to celebrate it with, carefully prepared by Lider TV.

A Man and a Woman... And Lider TV.

One of my first posts on this blog was about the powerful word "ayib" and it's importance for our society. Well, now you can forget it. Why? Because, apparently, that's what the state media wants us to do. The closer parliamentary elections, the funnier things here get. Now, we get to watch free porn in prime time. So here's the story.

Imagine an ordinary Azerbaijani family, preparing to have dinner. The father just came home from work, checking the grades of his kids. Probably, slapping them a couple of times for bad behavior. The daughter putting plates on the table, dreaming about getting married with the neighbor boy, mother finishing with cooking. They all gather at the table, mother pouring juice in glasses, father taking TV's remote, switching it on. They're going to watch news on Lider TV. The news start, the anchor tells news on President's trips and meetings, talks on Armenian army breaking the ceasefire again and announces a video report. And the TV shows THIS.

BAAAAM! How is it?

Two weeks before parliamentary elections, the pro-government television channel Lider has aired a secretly filmed video of an opposition newspaper editor and a woman having sex, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

The video was first made public on October 12, when a user under the name of "Mohammad Azadi" posted and distributed it on social-media networks. Several local media outlets also received a DVD version of the video in the mail.

But the broadcast of parts of the video on October 25 was the first time a nationwide TV station aired it. It was labeled "The Naked Truth of the Opposition."

They showed all the important moments. The man taking woman's clothes off, the scenes of oral sex, lovers changing poses. The only thing they cared about doing is hiding the genitals of two. And of course, the voice on the background, using strong phrases and stressing the immorality of the picture.

The announcer says that what is happening in the video is a result of the "asymetric policy from the West."

While engaging in oral sex, the Lider TV moderator said "we have to show this to the Western world, especially to France, so they know that their methods are very close to our opposition."

The moderator added that the video was leaked to other opposition newspapers and was distributed publicly by a rival opposition group. "This shows how 'united' our opposition is," the moderator concluded.

The man on the video is Azer Ahmedov, a technical editor of the opposition newspaper "Azadliq". The chief editor Ganimat Zahid and reporter Mirza Zakit of this same newspaper have spent years in jail on obviously fake hooliganism and drug-possession charges. Its investigative reporter Agil Khalil, who I personally know and respect, left the country after being stabbed in 2008. State run media later portrayed him as being "a homosexual." By the way, this story was also widely shown on other state channel, and is still available on Youtube.

Azer Ahmedov, a technical editor of the opposition newspaper "Azadliq," admitted a few days after the video appeared online that he is in the video. Ahmedov, who is separated from his wife, then resigned from his job and reportedly went to Turkey.

So, basically "A man had sex with a woman", reported Lider TV.

P.S.

Nushirevan Maharramli, the head of the National Council on TV and Radio, refused to comment on the decision of Lider TV to air the video.

"I haven't seen the show yet, I will talk after I see it," he told RFE/RL.

Have fun watching it, Mr. Maharramli.