A 2005 University of Richmond graduate, Adnan Hajizada, has been arrested, detained and apparently beaten in Azerbaijan after he and a fellow activist posted video critical of the nation’s government, according to e-mails and media reports.
Authorities arrested Hajizada, 26, and fellow activist Emin Milli, 30, in the capital city of Baku last week after two men confronted them while they were dining with friends. The authorities then questioned them about their criticism of the government, according to an e-mail from an acquaintance, Mehriban Efendiyeva, an artist and activist in Azerbaijan.
Efendiyeva said one of the men struck Milli without warning, then attacked Hajizada, and a fight ensued. Further details were not immediately available.
Accompanied by friends, both went to a local hospital to treat their injuries and to the police to report the crime, but authorities instead accused them of attacking the two men, detaining them for 48 hours and charging them with hooliganism, Efendiyeva said.
“Sadly, but importantly, Adnan’s story makes it very clear that this university and its community are part of the world, for good and ill,” said Uliana Gabara, dean of international education. “We all need to be conscious of this reality and do something about it.”
Hajizada’s girlfriend, Parvan Persiani, returned a Facebook message to an interview request, but did not elaborate on his situation further.
“I’m in rush right now, will reply ur message ASAP,” she wrote. “I’m his girlfriend.”
Hajizada and Milli are now awaiting trial, where they could receive one to five years in prison, The New York Times is reporting. They are being held in pretrial detention for two months, according to other media reports.
“We note with great regret that in some parts of the world today, severe injustices against the driving force for the progress — the socially active youth — takes (sic) place in the most brutal manner,” Efendiyeva wrote in an e-mail to Sheila Carapico, a Richmond political science professor.
U.S. Embassy and German officials voiced concern about the detention and arrests, prompting the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry and Prosecutor General’s office to respond by saying the countries were meddling in its affairs.
The U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan posted a statement on its Web site, expressing concern over reports that Hajizada and Milli were beaten, arrested and purportedly denied access to lawyers and medical treatment in the immediate aftermath of their detainment.
“We call on the Government of Azerbaijan to ensure that Mr. Milli and Mr. Hajizade are granted proper access to legal assistance and medical care,” the statement read. “We ask that the Government of Azerbaijan exercise due process in this case and respect the rights of these individuals.”
The video Hajizada and Milli posted last month on their blog shows a donkey giving a press conference to journalists, according to the Times article. The video satirizes the government’s apparent payment of exorbitant prices to import donkeys, ending with a statement that, roughly translated, said, “There will be someone to protect donkey civil rights, but who will protect human civil rights?”
Internet use has surged since opposition to the oil-rich Azerbaijani government has mostly disappeared from the media now that television stations are government-owned and advertisers have pulled away from newspapers that are critical of the government, the Times wrote.
Hajizada, whose birthday was Monday, according to his Facebook profile, started a youth group called Ol! Youth Movement, which produced the video. He is also an internal communications coordinator for BP in Azerbaijan, according to Facebook.
A Facebook group has been created to advocate for their release. Twitter users, including some who identified themselves as former classmates, also called for the bloggers’ release.
“Totally crazy thing to happen … but not surprised a UR grad in general or Adnan in specific stood up for his beliefs like that,” Mai-Anh Tran, a 2007 Richmond graduate, wrote on Twitter.
British politician Paul Flynn filed a motion in the British parliament on July 13, asking the government to condemn the attacks and imprisonment of youth activists “and hopes that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will robustly defend human rights during President Ilham Aliev’s current visit to the UK.”
One of Hajizada’s former professors, Tanja Softic, an associate professor of art at Richmond, said that his behavior was “so dignified and polite that he almost seemed old-fashioned.”
“He really stood out — really eager to learn, really thorough, earnest thinker, unusually mature,” Softic said. “I remember thinking, ‘Here is the future Prime Minister of Azerbaijan,’ and it certainly looks like he has begun a time-honored trajectory of a young idealist in politically corrupt system. Azerbaijan needs people like Adnan.”
This version of the story ADDS details, quotes and background. It will be updated as more information becomes available.
Stephanie Rice reported from San Diego and Dan Petty from Denver.